Find me a family 17 Jun 2009

Naomi Angell of Osbornes takes us through the adoption process

THE RECENT TV PROGRAMME Find me a Family focussed on the problems in finding adoptive families for the hard to place children in the care system who struggle to find a family to call their own.

The starting point for people thinking of adoption is often a baby or toddler so that they can have the closest experience to bringing up their own child. However there are now very few babies available for adoption, with seismic changes in social attitudes towards unmarried mothers,abortion and family structures.

The programme encouraged families thinking about adopting to look beyond the cute babies or toddlers to the children waiting in the care system to find a family; children with medical problems, sibling groups who should not be separated unless there is no alternative or older children.

Find me a Family also followed three very different types of families: a married couple who had been unable to conceive a much wanted second child after having their first; a single woman; and a male same sex couple.

The Adoption and Children Act 2002, the most up to date Act of Parliament on domestic adoption, introduced the right for gay couples and heterosexual cohabiting couples to adopt. The TV programme followed the families through the adoption process, a system with a reputation for its intrusiveness, capriciousness and length and dispelled some of the myths while explaining others.

The question is often asked why being assessed for adoption has to be so rigorous when having your own baby can happen without thought or planning and does not involve having to answer social workers’ questions about your own childhood experiences and your views about disciplining your future child. What a family will learn in the preparation and assessment process for adoption is that they need to understand themselves and their responses to situations when bringing up a child who has lost its own family.

It is not true that age or weight are automatic bars to adopting. But an adoption agency will need to be satisfied that an adoptive family is of an age and is likely to be in good enough health to bring an adopted child up into adulthood, to minimise the risk of the child suffering a second loss during their childhood.

A family’s application to adopt will go before the adoption agency’s adoption panel. The adoption panel is independent of the adoption agency and includes adopters,adopted adults and a doctor, as well as social workers. They will consider the detailed report prepared by the family’s social worker and make a decision on whether the family is suitable to adopt. The adopters will be able to attend the panel meeting and have a right to an independent review by a national body if they are not satisfied with the decision.

With a positive home study report the search for a child can start. The family’s social worker will work with them in trying to identify the right child for that family. As the TV programme showed, the time this takes can vary greatly. The child’s social worker needs to be sure that the family are right for that child. Where a suitable match is possible, the child’s social worker will meet the adoptive family and give them detailed information on the child’s background and needs. Then the adoption panel will recommend whether there should be a match between the child and if positive, introductions between the child and the adoptive family will begin.

Once the child joins the adoptive family, the adopters will apply to the court for an adoption order. With recent changes in the law this is unlikely to be a difficult process as any opposition by the child’s birth parents to the adoption will have been dealt with by the court before the child was placed with the adopters. If there are unexpected problems in the adoption proceedings, the local authority should pay the adopter’s legal costs for representation. In all, a long journey and not without its challenges, but an opportunity to change the lives of the children waiting for a family to call their own and of the adopters hoping to have a child to make their lives complete, while at the same time giving a future to a child in need.

Naomi Angell specialises in children’s law and has particular expertise in international and domestic adoption,children’s cases with an immigration interface, child protection and alternative reproduction cases, such as surrogacy. She chairs the adoption panel of a national adoption agency and has been closely involved in the parliamentary process of the recent new adoption legislation. She is a Consultant at Osbornes and qualified as a solicitor in 1973. Contact her by email or call 0207681 8687.

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