Letter: Caught in the adoption minefield

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Sir: We would like to express our anger and disappointment at the decision by the Minister of Health to close the Overseas Adoption Helpline. As from March next year there will be no service dedicated to informing prospective adopters, childcare workers and medical and legal advisers about the complex processes in the sensitive area of inter-country adoption. The absence of this important resource will add pressure to local authority social services departments, which are already overstretched.

Since its foundation in 1992 the helpline has handled more than 13,000 inquiries about adopting children from almost 100 countries, and we know that interest is escalating. This year, there have already been three times as many applications to adopt children from China as last year.

The withdrawal of the Helpline will not mean that those who wish to adopt children from overseas will lose interest but that they may find it impossible to gain accurate information. We do know that the majority of inquirers decide not to proceed, many after talking to Helpline staff. Both the changing criteria of sending countries and the often complex approval process can present a minefield to prospective adopters, and ultimately the lack of service to them impacts on children.

This decision, coming so shortly after the omission of the draft Adoption Bill from the Queen's Speech, raises serious questions about the Government's commitment to international co-operation on the protection of children. The Bill would have enabled the UK to ratify the Hague Convention and thus be in a position to work co-operatively with the increasing number of other countries ratifying.

The good intentions of prospective adopters will not protect children living in poverty across the world from merciless exploitation by marketeers. The Government has a duty to ensure that safeguards are in place and not to dismantle existing provision before proper legislation is passed.

FELICITY COLLIER

Director, British Agencies for Adoption & Fostering

BRIAN WALLER

Chair, Children and Families Committee, Association of Directors of Social Services

DENISE PLATT

Under-Secretary for Social Services, Association of Metropolitan Authorities

STEPHEN CAMPBELL

Under-Secretary for Social Services, Association of County Councils

KEITH BILTON

Chair of Children & Families Sub-committee, British Association of Social Workers

PHILLY MORRALL

National Co-ordinator, Parent to Parent Information on Adoption Services

PAT WORDLEY

Chair, Association of Families who have Adopted from Abroad

London SE1

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