Northern Ireland's adoption laws '30 years out of date'

Family walking through trees Northern Ireland's adoption rate is only half that of the rest of the UK

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A charity has said that Northern Ireland's adoption laws are 30 years out of date.

More than 250 children in NI have been in care for more than 10 years.

The children are either fostered or in children's homes - but have never been adopted.

Priscilla McLoughlin, NI director of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), said: "The legislation has not been fit for purpose for many years."

She added: "It does not fit with contemporary family life.

"Only in Northern Ireland can a birth parent specify the religion in which they would like a child placed for adoption to be brought up.

"And the current process whereby children in the care system are made subject to Freeing Orders, which dispenses with parental agreement, is recognised as degrading and stigmatising for birth parents and at odds with human rights legislation."

Northern Ireland's adoption rate is only about half the rate in the rest of the UK.

Criticism

And for those children who are not adopted quickly it can mean an unpredictable life - being moved from place to place.

But when it works children can be given a brighter future.

Fionnuala Ferrin and her husband Patrick, from County Antrim, adopted three brothers 13 years ago. They are now teenagers and very much a tight family unit.

Mrs Ferrin said her only criticism is how slowly the process went along.

Patrick and Fionnuala Ferrin found the slowness of the adoption process frustrating

"To be truthful there were times during the initial process when it was just ourselves that we thought we are never going to get through this," she said.

"Once we'd finished all the social services assessments we had almost two years of waiting. That was the worst.

"There were a couple of times we thought this isn't happening and we thought of phoning social services and saying 'take us off your list, we can't wait any more'.

"But it was more than worth it in the end."

Ninety-three children were adopted in Northern Ireland last year, almost double the figure in each of the previous five years.

Priscilla McLoughlin puts that down to a bigger effort by health trusts to get children adopted.

Growing practice

But the children who wait longest to be adopted are those with complex problems - either special needs or behavioural problems.

The BAAF wants to see a greater effort made to recruit and prepare adoptive families for these children - some of whom will spend their entire childhood in the care system.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "For the year ending March 2013, there were 2,807 children in care in Northern Ireland, of whom 9% (247 children) were in care for 10 years or over.

"It should be noted that adoption is not suitable for all children in care. For example, at today's date adoptive placements are being sought for only 20 children out of the total looked-after children population.

"There is a growing practice of children being 'fostered' by relatives or friends and in those circumstances adoption is unlikely to be the best option.

"Of those children in foster care at 31 March 2013, 41% (865) were in kinship foster care and 59% were in non-kinship foster care (placed with non-related foster care providers).

"Residential care is also an integral part of the child welfare system, and this is a placement of choice for some children. At 31 March 2013, 8% (217) of looked-after children were in residential care."

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