Questions facing potential parents

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Is it true that there are many more children awaiting adoption than there are available parents?

Yes, says the British Agency for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) which will run a national adoption week later this year in the hope of attracting new parents. Adoptions have dropped from the peak in 1968, when 24,831 children were adopted, to 6,239 in 1994. Of the 1994 figures, half were step-parents adopting their partner's child.

The type of children who need adopting has also changed since the 1960s, when a high proportion were babies. Now in 1994 only 360 out of 6,000 were babies under 12 months old and the majority tended to be much older and were like to have suffered ill-treatment or abuse in the past.

Is it true that white couples can't adopt mixed race children?

No, but it can be difficult. The Department of Health's view is that it is better if a child is placed with a couple who share its ethnic background but that "all things being equal, it should not preclude a couple from a different background". It stresses that the interests of the child should come first.

But the BAAF takes a harder line. Its guidelines to local authorities says that children should be ethnically matched with their prospective parents.

Is it true that people over 35 can't adopt?

In law there is nothing to say there is an age limit on who can adopt but in practice many local authorities do not allow those over the age of 35 to join the waiting list for babies. One of the reasons is that waiting for a baby can take an extremely long time before there is a suitable match. Birth parents also have more say now in who is chosen for their children and they tend to ask for younger parents for their offspring.

There does not tend to be a problem if a couple wish to adopt an older child.

Is it true that gay couples can't adopt?

No. Technically they are in the same position as cohabiting couples. Only those who are married can adopt as a couple; others, whether straight or gay, must apply as a single carer. Many gay couples are put off applying because they feel that they will be discriminated against. "They may worry they will find the approval process difficult but hopefully they will be assessed in exactly the same way," said a spokeswoman for BAAF.