No one has the “right” to adopt and the proposed new legislation will continue to uphold this principle. However, the law must establish basic criteria which a person must satisfy in order to be eligible to apply to adopt. Under Northern Ireland’s existing adoption legislation, the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, a single person of either sex, irrespective of their sexual orientation, may apply to adopt a child. Only married couples may apply to adopt a child jointly. Civil partners, however, are unable to adopt either jointly or singly.
On 4 July I launched a public consultation “Adopting the Future”, which outlines a proposed strategy for adoption services in Northern Ireland. One of the proposals designed to increase the opportunities for children to be adopted is that civil partners and unmarried couples (whether of different sexes or the same sex) living as partners in an enduring family relationship should be eligible to adopt jointly.
As is currently the case, where persons are eligible to adopt, they will be required to undergo a rigorous assessment of their suitability before any placement or adoption can take place. Every child deserves a safe and happy childhood. Where this is not possible within their own family or extended family, it is essential that every effort is made to secure permanence for the child as early as possible. If a couple in an enduring partnership can demonstrate that they can provide a child with a secure and happy home, where that child can thrive and be cared for into adulthood and beyond, the law should at least allow the couple to be assessed.
I am aware that this is a sensitive issue and would reiterate that these proposals are part of a consultation process. Everyone who has a contribution to make is welcome to do so and all views will be taken into consideration.
In order to be approved as adoptive parents, any prospective adopter or couple is required to undergo a stringent assessment process carried out by an adoption agency over a period of several months. The assessment includes:
Checks on medical history and police checks
Current conditions in the applicant’s lives
Motives for adoption
Knowledge and experience of children
Capacity for the parenting role
Expectations concerning the child
Identity and culture
Relations and other social networks
Personality and interests
Religion and attitude to life
Openness to individual difference
Proper assessment is the key to ensuring that only suitable people are ultimately able to adopt. There is a range of qualities a single person or a couple need to demonstrate before they can be approved as adoptive parents.
Where an adoption agency has decided that adoption of a child by a particular person or couple would be in that child's best interests, social services are required to monitor the placement and ongoing support is available until an adoption order is made. Ultimately, the court will decide whether or not to make the adoption order.