Same-sex adoption rate lowest in UK

By Siobhan Fenton

Image source, Thinkstock

Fewer same-sex couples who apply to adopt in Northern Ireland have a child placed with them than LGBT couples in other parts of the UK, figures obtained by BBC News NI suggest.

In 2013, Northern Ireland laws changed to allow same-sex couples to adopt for the first time.

It was the last part of the UK to implement the change.

Figures released show that since the law change in Northern Ireland, 30 same-sex couples have applied to adopt.

Image caption,
Laws to allow same-sex couples to adopt were introduced in England and Wales in 2005 and in Scotland in 2006

Of these, two couples have had a child placed with them - a success rate of 1 in 15.

During the same period in the rest of the UK, 481 same-sex couples applied to adopt.

Of these, 235 couples had a child placed with them - a success rate of one in two.

The figures were released by the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Trusts under Freedom of Information rules.

The lower rate in Northern Ireland could be due to the fact that adoption processes can take several years to be completed, meaning some adopters are still in the process and may have been approved, but not had a child placed with them yet, said a Department of Health spokesperson.

'It was a learning curve'

Civil partners Mark Nesbitt and Ciaran Connolly began the adoption process four-and-a-half years ago.

They have just been approved to adopt and are now waiting for a child to be placed with them.

"It was a learning process for both of us [and our social worker] because we were her first homosexual couple, so for her it was a learning curve and for us it was a learning curve as well," said Mr Nesbitt.

"I have friends who adopted but they adopted from London… so we thought, this might not happen or it will be harder than for most straight couples.

"But we got talking to a lot of straight couples and they went through exactly the same as what we went through so we were treated in a way that was quite equal.

"It probably just took a lot longer because it's new to everybody."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The ban on same-sex marriage was overturned in the courts after the then Minister for Health resisted the change

He says they are now waiting excitedly to see which child they'll be matched with: "I'm excited. I'm nervous. It can't happen quick enough."

EJ Havlin, the Northern Ireland Director of Adoption UK, said the way the law changed in Northern Ireland may have also delayed some adoption cases.

The ban on same-sex adoption was overturned in the courts following a lengthy legal process which was resisted by the then Health Minister at Stormont, rather than passed in parliament like the rest of the UK.

"Whenever this legislation first came in the changes happened almost overnight, so unlike the 'bedding in' period which happened in the rest of the UK, the changes overnight meant that social services needed to get some support and training," she said.

"This has been a real cultural change, so it takes time for that to be embedded."

Ciaran Moynagh, a Belfast-based solicitor and who has represented campaigners for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, said while adoption applications can take a long time to be approved, it was necessary to ensure the process was fair for all.

"When it comes to people looking at adoption and there are families having children removed from them, there has to be a due process and it has to go into court," he said.

"The parents of that child have a right to have their voice heard and all of this has to be done in a human rights compliant process. So having a child freed for adoption is quite a long process."

He added that Stormont's resistance to the law change prior to the 2013 court ruling had also had an impact.

"We have to remember the context this comes about it. It's been five years but there's been a longer legal story," said Mr Moynagh.

"We've had to fight for that right in courts. It hasn't been a legislative change brought about in Northern Ireland and it hasn't been an informed societal change, so that may have put a lot of people off."