Adoption law will soon be amended to make clear to local authorities they have a responsibility to provide an adoption service that includes adoption by UK people of children from overseas.
This became clear when a private member's Bill, introduced by Mark Oaten, Liberal Democrat MP for Winchester, received an unopposed second reading. It received government support and support from all parts of the commons.
He said until the Romanian revoultion in 1989, intercountry adoption into the UK was low. It had risen to about 300 cases a year, less than in other countries such as Holland and Sweden, where about 2,000 adoptions from other countries were completed. Over the past six years UK families had adopted from 42 countries, the most popular countries being China, India and Guatemala.
Some foreign adoption authorities and individuals placed children with such people. And Mr Oaten said he was concerned about how the children were delivered to European airports and and UK ports late at night. 'Sadly, the new parents often meet the child for the first time at the
airport, which must be traumatic for the children', he added.
The Bill covers four key areas: a responsibility on local authorities to provide a regulated adoption service which includes intercountry adoption; enabling the UK to ratify the 1993 Hague convention on children and co-operation on intercountry adoption; regulation to prevent trafficking in children; and to allow a child adopted from overseas to enjoy the same legal status as a child adopted in the UK. Other aspects will speed up the process of handling applications
in the interests of all concerned.
Because of wide variations in local authorities' performance, firm guidelines and standards were needed, said Mr Oaten, with better training and, above all, a more positive attitude to intercountry adoption. Charges for this ranged from£1,500 in Essex to£3,200 in
Northamptonshire, often without explanation of what the charges were for.
Health minister John Hutton said the government recognised the need for legislation. The Adoption Act 1976 and the Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978, both of which would be amended by the Bill, were enacted when very few people in the UK adopted from overseas. He said the
government was working with local authorities to bring adoption into the mainstream of children's services.