‘An historic victory for the adoption community in Northern Ireland as new law is passed’

New ‘child-centred’ provisions laid out in Northern Ireland’s ‘Adoption and Children Bill’ are set to become law as the Bill today passes its final legislative stage. This marks huge reform in adoption law intended to improve outcomes for children and young people and is a victory for the adoption community across Northern Ireland who have worked hard to make this change happen.

It has not been an easy road, nor a quick one. The need for adoption legislative reform in Northern Ireland was highlighted in a consultation back in 2006. It wasn’t until 2017 the Department of Health launched a public consultation on the draft Bill, but the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive, followed by a global pandemic, didn’t help the Bill’s progress. This makes today’s milestone all the more poignant.

Adoption UK has over 800 adoptive families and members of Adoption UK in Northern Ireland. Collectively, we carry a huge voice and were pleased to have been engaged in the formation of the new legislation as it progressed through the Assembly – meaning the voice of adopters has been heard throughout, evident in the changes we saw added to the Bill.

Underpinning the new legislation is the principle that the child's welfare is the paramount consideration in decisions relating to adoption, and specific provisions aim to provide greater certainty and stability for children.

One crucial area of change is on adoption support services – something our members have raised continually throughout the Bill’s consultation process, and something Adoption UK called for in both oral and written evidence to the Committee. Adoption UK’s research shows that 71% of parents feel that they face a continual struggle to get the support they need - a figure that has remained unchanged across three years of AUK research.

I am therefore delighted that the new law provides a right for adopted children and adoptive parents to request an assessment of their needs for adoption support services. This assessment will link with other Health and Social Care bodies and the Education Authority functions where needed, aimed at providing a joined-up package of care.

Of particular significance, and the result of a long lobbying campaign by Adoption UK and others, the legislation places a duty on adoption authorities to provide adoption services which have been assessed as needed. This marks a huge shift forward and means that Northern Ireland will guarantee families greater rights on support in law than the other nations of the UK, where there is no such duty.

There are further provisions aimed at reducing the amount of time a child waits to be placed with an adoptive family, and provisions that introduce special guardianship orders – all long overdue. There is much to digest in this huge piece of legislation, and the underpinning regulations still need to be written. But for now, I am thrilled to see this historic day come, and that children and their families across Northern Ireland will finally receive the support they need and deserve.

EJ Havlin

Director, Adoption UK Northern Ireland