Tim Yeo, Under-Secretary for Health, attacked the 'dogma and political correctness' of some childcare experts who refuse to favour married couples for adoption placements. He was launching a consultation document for updating Britain's adoption law and practice, which proposes new criminal sanctions against people who adopt children from abroad without official authorisation.
'The vast majority of children benefit from having two loving parents of opposite sexes,' he said. 'Local authorities and adoption agencies should be in no doubt whatever that they must make the most strenuous efforts possible to find such couples.'
One exception may be in the cases of older children who were profoundly handicapped and had forged a relationship with a member of staff in the institution where they lived, 'who may have sought adoption by a married couple without success'.
Mr Yeo's comments on the suitability of would-be adopters appeared to go further than the conclusions of the consultation paper, which cautioned against any legislation or guidance that was 'too prescriptive' about the characteristics required of applicants.
The paper, the result of a two- year review by the Department of Health, the Foreign Office, Lord Chancellor's department, and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland offices, states: 'The suitability of a person who is eligible by law to adopt a child should be judged primarily according to the needs of a particular child.'
It suggests that children, where possible, would have the right to be consulted about decisions relating to adoption; and that those aged 12 and over should be able to veto adoption proposals. They would also have the right to know that they were adopted and allowed access to information about their family background.
The blueprint also envisages new duties on local authorities to provide advice and counselling to people wishing to adopt, whether within the United Kingdom or from overseas. Councils should be allowed to charge for such services, which would include help with securing clearance for immigration, but should set such fees according to the applicants' needs.
The Department of Health said a working party would shortly be established to consider the financial aspects of the proposals. Ministers hope the review will prompt wide-ranging public debate.
British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, the largest single organisation working in the field, welcomed the proposals, but voiced concern over the resources available to local authorities.
Deborah Cullen, its legal officer, said: 'Unless councils are properly funded to take on these new responsibilities, there is a great danger of shutting the door to people of limited means, who might otherwise be excellent adoptive parents.'
Review of Adoption Law: Report to ministers of an interdepartmental working group. Community Services Division, Room 241, Wellington House, 133-135, Waterloo Road, London SE1 8UG; free.
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