Breakthrough for mixed adoptions gets go-ahead: Authorities using racial grounds for refusal are criticised as Government's White Paper proposes sweeping changes

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Indy Politics
THE MOST sweeping changes in adoption law for two decades will seek to stop couples being prevented from taking on children of a different race on grounds of 'political correctness'.

In an attempt to stop 'baby bartering' and adoption by unsuitable parents, a White Paper published yesterday also proposes to make it illegal to bring into Britain babies from abroad without official approval.

It proposes also that if a child brought into the country without clearance then has to be taken into local authority care, the people who brought the child in will be made liable for costs.

The proposals - announced in the Commons by Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health - were broadly welcomed by the Opposition. Labour's health spokesman, David Blunkett, said: 'All of us have an interest in ensuring that we put behind us any nonsense about political correctness and also about prejudice in . . . ensuring it's the interests of the child that are put at the forefront.

'The right parent, or parents, for the right child is all that matters.

'It isn't age or status or weight or height or anything else that matters, none of the 'isms', but simply the right person to do the job.'

Adoption of mixed race and foreign children and babies has become much more of an issue since the last major adoption legislation in 1976 as contraception, abortion and social acceptance of single-parent families has grown, drastically reducing the number of white babies available for adoption.

The proposals intend to streamline procedures for inter-country adoption so that parents trying to adopt are not driven to avoid official channels by bureaucratic delay.

The White Paper proposes giving local authorities a statutory duty to provide assessments for prospective adopters from abroad, and to charge for the service. Many authorities have insisted their higher priority is to find adoptive parents for children already in their care.

The blueprint for this streamlining is the 1993 Hague convention on adoption, which the Government would ratify once it had changed the law. This lays out common procedures between countries, and where an adoption was between two signatories, procedures would not have to be duplicated in each country. As the law stands, children are adopted in first one country then the other. In future, the 'sending' country would assess that the children were suitable for adoption and had genuinely been given up by the birth parents. The 'receiving' country would establish that the prospective adopters were suitable.

Britain has understandings governing adoptions with 15 countries, mostly in South and Central America, and including Romania.

The White Paper says: 'The Government considers . . . as a general principle that mutual recognition of adoption orders, practices and procedures is a desirable objective wherever it can realistically and safely be achieved.'

It criticises local authorities who have apparently rejected parents on racial grounds.

'The 1976 Act contains no reference to questions of ethnicity or culture though in recent years authorities and agencies have usually taken them into account. The Government believes it right to consider these factors alongside others in matching children and parents and will introduce a broad requirement.

'However, in some cases it is clear that those assessing parents may have given these factors an unjustifiably decisive influence.

'There is no conclusive research which justifies isolating such matters from other matters needing assessment or which supports the proposition that children adopted by people of a different ethnic group will necessarily encounter problems of identity or prejudice.'

It also suggests that authorities should be more willing to consider older adoptive parents. If either parent is over 30, it is virtually impossible now to adopt a British baby.

Mrs Bottomley said the White Paper intends to bring law into line with modern life, by accepting that it is now relatively common for marriages to break down and for partners to re-marry.

But the White Paper firmly maintains that the ideal family unit for adoption is a married couple. And Mrs Bottomley insisted at a press conference that there was no question of gay couples being allowed to adopt children. Gay or unmarried heterosexual couples would only be considered if one partner applied as a single person.