Letter: Put adoption needs before party politics

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The Independent Online
Put adoption needs before party politics

Sir: As lawyers concerned with the welfare of children in care and adoption proceedings we share the concerns of the British Agencies for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF) at suggestions that the Government will not make time available in the coming parliamentary session for an Adoption Bill for England and Wales.

It would be a grave disservice to children if their interests were to be subordinated to party political considerations, and we urge all parties to ensure that priority is given to facilitating the passage of a Bill already published in draft, generally non-contentious, which is designed to promote the interests of children. Subject to some necessary amendments, on most of which we expect a wide measure of agreement, the draft Bill would provide a sound legislative framework for adoption.

The 1976 Adoption Act not only fails to reflect current practice, which has changed enormously in the last 20 years, but also fits imperfectly with the Children Act 1989 in a number of respects.

At present, if a step-parent adopts the child of his or her spouse, that spouse also has to become an adoptive parent. Parents are understandably affronted by this requirement, which can also cause considerable confusion for the child in later life. The proposed legislation would end this - as has already been provided for Scotland in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.

The draft Bill contains measures which would give effect to the provisions of the 1993 Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, not only in England and Wales but also in the rest of the UK. The convention contains important safeguards without which children remain at risk of exploitation through intercountry adoption.

Where changes to legislation are proposed in detail, but delayed for an indefinite period, there can be confusion among both professionals and the public about what the law actually "says". It also provides a rationale to postpone important improvements in practice and procedures.

Adoption is a unique way of providing "a family for life" for children who cannot return to their birth families - these children are often the most disadvantaged in our society and, if a clear decision is not made about their future, the long-term effects may be very serious.

JENNIFER JENKINS,

Chair, BAAF Legal Group

His Honour THOMAS HEALD

His Honour Judge PETER URQUHART

ALLAN LEVY QC

Lord MESTON QC

ANDREW McFARLANE

JANE HOYAL

BARBARA SLOMNICKA

SUSANNA WALKER

JOHN MITCHELL

PAUL EVANS

IAN ROBERTSON

BARBARA MITCHELS

MAGGIE RAE

SARAH SLATER

Dr CAROLINE BALL

Senior Lecturer in Law, University of East Anglia

Professor MICHAEL FREEMAN

Professor CHRISTINA LYON

Professor JUDITH MASSON

NORMA MARTIN CLEMENT

Lecturer in Law, Leeds University

GILLIAN DOUGLAS

Chair, BAAF, Welsh Legal Group

London SE1

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