The adoption laws in Northern Ireland belong to a different generation

editorial image

Significantly more likely to have mental health problems.

Significantly more likely to have mental health problems.

John McCallister, outgoing MLA South Down

John McCallister, outgoing MLA South Down

Significantly less likely to do well in school.

Significantly more likely not to be in education, employment, or training at age 19.

This is the reality of what life can be like for many of those who have been children in care, who have had to be taken into care due to family issues.

Northern Ireland should have modern, effective, adoption laws - allowing those who want to give a loving family environment to children in care the opportunity to do so.

Unfortunately this is not the case. Northern Ireland’s adoption laws are nearly 30 years out of date. They belong to a different generation. They fail to reflect the changes in family structure in our society and the reality that most children in care are no longer ‘unwanted’ babies but children who have experienced neglect.

Last year, the average length of time it took to adopt a child, from the start of the process to its end, was two years and four months. The figure from two years previous was even worse - two years and seven months. In England and Wales the figure is one year and six months. While obviously checks do need to be in place – we need to do a lot better.

Each month a child is deprived of a loving family environment, the steeper the challenges the child will be faced with in the future.

The current legislation was written with babies in mind, it didn’t envisage the kind of post-adoptive support needed by for older children and their adoptive parents. Much more needs to be done to encourage those considering adoption to assure them that the system is on their side and the child’s.

Over the last five years, the five main parties forming the Executive have failed to deliver modern and progressive reform of adoption legislation. It must be a priority for the next Assembly. I am urging the parties that intend to go into government to lay out their plans to reform our adoption laws, and I am inviting those who will be on the opposition benches to join me in ensuring that the Executive are pushed on this issue at every opportunity.

Every child has the right to belong to a family. This is a principle enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. What is more, it is common sense. Loving families are where children flourish. So let all of us standing for election to the Assembly commit to ensuring that this is the case for children in care in Northern Ireland.