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21 June 2012

NI Church: A ready-made social network to nurture adopted children

NI Church: A ready-made social network to nurture adopted children

I have always thought it a disturbing paradox that while some prospective parents desperately seek medical treatments to help them conceive, others are at the same time choosing to end tiny, unborn lives. This article is not about abortion, but similarly how we value vulnerable life, those who make it out of the womb into situations where they are unwanted or at risk of harm. By changing just two letters, abortion becomes adoption, hope is born and the narrative shifts from death to life.

Adoption is not just for newborns. In fact the average age for adoption in Northern Ireland in 2009-10 was four years and eight months. A major reason for this was the average length of the adoption process being three years and six months. This is a long wait by anyone’s standards but for vulnerable children in their formative years, it’s unacceptable. Thankfully this is also the view of the Northern Ireland Executive and an Adoption (and Children) Bill is expected to be brought to the Assembly in 2013 which aims to speed up the adoption process.

In the same way that the law on abortion in Northern Ireland is very different from that in the rest of the UK, so too is the law surrounding adoption. At present adoption is only permitted by a married couple or a single person. This means that unmarried couples and those in homosexual relationships cannot jointly adopt. A public consultation in 2006 proposed to allow unmarried and homosexual couples to adopt and found that 96 per cent of respondents sought to keep the law as it was and so no change was made. However, at present there is a challenge to the law in the form of a case being brought by the Human Rights Commission concerning a lesbian woman seeking to become the adoptive parent of her partner’s child. We understand that the case is being brought, in principle, on the human rights of the child, seeking to widen the pool of prospective adopters for children here in Northern Ireland. The inference is that we have too small a pool of prospective adopters and by widening the pool more children could be adopted more quickly.

We have sought figures from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) on the number of prospective parents cleared for adoption and those currently in the process. We have been advised to date that these figures are not available. They are not collected or held by any health trust or government department. We are calling for these figures to be collected urgently, so at the very least the ‘demand’ for adoption services can be quantified.

Many studies have shown the importance of early-years intervention in the lives of vulnerable children and that marriage provides the best environment for children to develop well. For example, the Breakthrough Britain report found that almost 50 per cent of co-habiting parents split up before their child’s fifth birthday, compared to about eight per cent of married parents. Three quarters of family breakdown affecting young children involves unmarried parents. If you have experienced family breakdown, you are 75 per cent more likely to fail at school, 70 per cent more likely to be addicted to drugs, 50 per cent more likely to suffer from alcohol problems and 40 per cent more likely to have serious debt problems.

The Alliance, along with Care for the Family, is currently holding a series of public consultations across the UK with professionals and parents on how the Church can serve in the area of adoption and fostering. We believe that the Church is uniquely placed to offer its help to meet the need for adoptive families. The Church values marriage as the foundational relationship in which to raise children. Children in care are often the most vulnerable members of our society and caring for the least is what we are called to do - looking after orphans and widows in their affliction (James 1:27). The Church is a ready-made social network made up of families and individuals from all ages and backgrounds. It is fertile soil for recruitment of adopters and a loving community of support to wrap around families who have adopted or fostered children. To quote the title of our last Council meeting: “It takes a whole church to raise a child.” And we believe that the whole Church could play a valuable role in the social and spiritual redemption of thousands of children.

If you missed our consultation in Belfast on 20 June but would like more information on this issue, please feel free to contact me at d.smyth@eauk.org