Clause 81 - Giving parental responsibility prior to adoption abroad

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:30 am ar 11 Rhagfyr 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 10:30, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

Welcome back to the Committee, Mr. Stevenson.

We are continuing our consideration of the clauses that deal with intercountry adoption. Clause 81 allows the High Court to make an order to transfer parental responsibility for a child to prospective adopters prior to adoption overseas. It replaces section 55 of the Adoption Act 1976. Although it is likely to be used only rarely, it is intended to allow a child from the United Kingdom to be adopted overseas if a court agrees that that is in the child's best interests. It may be used to allow prospective adopters from a Hague convention country to adopt a looked-after child who is assessed to be suitable for overseas adoption in that country. It could also be used when children can no longer live with their birth parents and their best interests are served by adoption by godparents, distant relatives or others who are significant to them and who live outside the British islands.

We must ensure that safeguards are in place and that the provision is not abused or used as a shortcut by those who should go through the usual adoption procedures. An order cannot be made under the clause if the prospective adopters meet domicile or habitual residence requirements that would allow an adoption order to be made in England and Wales. In other words, an order cannot be made if prospective adopters currently live in this country.

Consistent with the rules on adoption—to respond to the points made by the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter)—the child must have had his home with the prospective adopters for a minimum of 10 weeks prior to the order being applied for; the prospective adopters must also meet any other requirements that are prescribed in regulations. The amendment would remove the phrase ''at all times'' from the requirement that the child should have had its home with the prospective adopters for the preceding 10 weeks. I understand that the hon. Gentleman intends to add clarity, but the amendment would remove clarity from the residency requirements and might thus put children at risk.

Giving the child time to live with the prospective adopters before the order is made will allow a relationship to be built up between child and adults. If the order is made, the child will be taken from familiar surroundings to an entirely new country and culture, so it is important to ensure that the child has the opportunity to form a bond with the prospective adopters and that it accepts the impending move. It is also important that the court is able to satisfy itself that making an order giving all parental responsibility to the prospective adopters is in the child's best interests. That can be done only if it has been possible to observe

the child and the prospective adopters together and confirm that the adults will be able to meet the child's needs.

The phrase ''at all times'' makes it clear that the child should have had his home with the prospective adopters for the previous 10 weeks. That means not that they should have spent 24 hours a day, seven days a week together, but that the child should have been living with the prospective adopters for a full 10 weeks, spending time with them and doing the things that a child would normally do at home, such as eating, sleeping and playing.