New adoption law will aim to give children more say

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The Independent Online
CHILDREN up for adoption and their natural parents will be given greater rights under proposals to be unveiled in a government White Paper on adoption later this month.

Children older than 11 will automatically be included in any discussions and decisions about their adoption. Parents of children who are to be adopted will be given more say in the future of their offspring. New laws would remove the present assumption that by the age of 40, couples are too old to adopt.

The White Paper will also recommend formal adoption arrangements with other countries. The Department of Health believes that this will help 'stamp out corruption, abduction and child trafficking'.

Details of the White Paper emerged as criticism grew about another of its proposals which emerged on Friday - the plan to charge couples up to pounds 1,500 to assess their suitability as adoptive parents. One Tory MP said yesterday that this would result in handicapped and 'problem' children being ignored.

The debate on adoption rules began with newspaper reports that social workers had refused an Asian woman and her white husband permission to adopt a mixed race child, apparently because they felt they had a poor understanding of racism and said they had not encountered any in their home town of Cromer, Norfolk.

It also emerged yesterday that William Waldegrave, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is responsible for citizen's charters, has considered launching an 'adopter's charter'. Information is still being collated, although the Department of Health is understood to oppose the idea.

Peter Thurnham, Tory MP for Bolton North-east and vice-chairman of the Campaign for Inter-Country Adoption, along with local authority representatives, met Mr Waldegrave about a month ago. But a Health Department spokeswoman said: 'No commitment was made to providing a charter.'

Other proposals in the White Paper will include powers for the courts to insist on taking into account the views of younger children, who will have no automatic right to consultation, in deciding who should adopt them. Local authorities will also have to give couples more information about how adoptive parents are selected.

Adoption from other countries will be streamlined. It will become illegal to bring a child to the UK for adoption without formal permission. But the wider changes may be overshadowed by a row over the plans to charge some parents for assessing their suitability.

Barbara Mostyn, founder of Stork, the association for families who adopted from abroad, said: 'It would be grossly unfair to ask people to pay pounds 1,500. If I had given up my child I would feel dreadful if someone had to pay to adopt it. We go on about Romanian women who sell their babies, but this would be the same.'

Mr Thurnham, whose adoptive son is mentally and physically handicapped, said: 'Many local authorities already have problems in persuading couples to adopt handicapped children. Charging them could be the last straw.'

John Bowis, the Health Minister, has said he does not expect local authorities to charge couples wanting to adopt a 'difficult' child. However, Peter Smallridge, president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, said he opposed this approach. 'There should not be a league table mentality.'

Lynn Barber page 23