Unmarried and same sex couples have finally received the right
to assume joint responsibility for an adopted child as part of the biggest
shake-up in adoption laws for thirty years.
The reform aims to broaden the pool of potential adoptive parents at
a time when there is an apparent shortage of suitable candidates.
At any one time there are more than 60,000 children
in the care of local authorities in England and Wales.
The Act also introduced new rights for foster parents,
who can now apply for 'special guardianship' orders, enabling them to
take continuous responsibility for children until their 18th birthday.
But by far the most welcome change of all is that
parents who gave up their children for adoption will now have the right
to try to trace them through an intermediary service, provided the child
Pam Hodgkins, chief executive of the National Adoption Agency, said 'adoptive
children were often reluctant to trace their birth parents as they feared
'being rejected a second time'.
Agencies would contact people who have been adopted to ask if they
wanted to be put in touch with their birth parents but noinformation
would be exchanged without their permission.
Many mothers gave up their children for adoption under duress and spend
their lives wondering what has become of their child, this new reform
will give them some hope of reconciliation.
Although there is no upper age limit for adoption,
prospective parents are expected to be sufficiently healthy. This means
people who are overweight or who smoke, while not automatically disqualified,
will have a more difficult time adopting
now than a gay or cohabiting couple.