Adoption should be about the needs of children, not the rights of adults

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The Independent Online

There is no justification – for those who truly put the child at the centre of their thinking – for refusing to allow an application for adoption from a potential parent on grounds other than their lack of personal suitability.

The House of Commons has been "got at by the gay-rights lobby". So campaigners in the House of Lords claimed last night as the Lords overturned by 196 to 162 the vote by the Commons to permit gay and unmarried couples to put themselves forward to adopt the 5,000 children currently in care.

It was a revealing assertion and a retrograde move by the Lords. Adoption is not about the rights of adults – straight or gay. It is about the needs of children. And yet the talk of "gay rights" shows the extent to which the issue has become wilfully clouded by campaigners whose agenda is far wider than they often disclose.

When it comes to the needs of children, one thing is vividly clear. The overwhelming priority is to get them out of care. All the evidence is stark on this. Youngsters who languish in council care are 50 times more likely than other children to end up in prison and 60 times more likely to become homeless.

And all the indices of lesser disadvantage – school-leaver qualifications, schoolgirl pregnancy and so on – are just as awful. To be adopted by anyone who can offer love, security and stability has to be preferable to the cold hand of the local authority's social services department.

That being the case, there is no justification – for those who truly put the child at the centre of their thinking – for refusing to allow an application for adoption from a potential parent on grounds other than their lack of personal suitability. Generic objections – on the grounds that a couple are not married or are gay – fail the test of placing the child first. In truth, they are based on a particular, and often outdated, view of the nature of family.

What goes without saying in adoption cases is that the potential parents should be subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny as to their individual fitness for parenting. Because children in care may be psychologically damaged or particularly emotionally needy – and because the state has even more responsibility in selecting adopters than it does in legislating for the behaviour of natural parents – these tests may be tough ones, although they should, of course, be conducted sensitively and speedily.

It may be that, in weighing the comparative virtues of prospective adopters, social services departments will draw up their own hierarchy of preferences, some of which may well include factors close to the traditionalists' hearts. All other things being equal, they could prefer a married couple to a cohabiting one, on the ground that 70 per cent of children whose parents are married live with them both throughout their childhood, and the figure is only half that where the parents simply cohabit. Equally, they may prefer a home with male and female role models, rather than a same-sex one.

Such might be factors considered in the complex equation by which individual suitability is judged by individual local authorities. But that is not the same as a dogmatic assertion by the state that couples should be ruled out merely on the prejudiced assumptions about marital status or sexual orientation. To do that would be a mere inversion of the "political correctness" that traditionalists, rightly, object to when social workers turn down putative adopters for "being too rich, too fat or having a house that is too big". But, worst of all, it would be to condemn some children to the often damaging alternative of residential council care.

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