Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy has welcomed news from the Health Minister Michelle O’Neill that an adoption bill for the north is in the works.
Mr Murphy raised the issue with the Minister in the Assembly during the week. She replied that an Adoption and Children Bill has indeed been drafted.
“It is principally intended to modernise the legal framework for adoption in the North and place children's welfare at the centre of the adoption decision-making processes,” she said.
“The current law on adoption is the Adoption Order 1987. It is based on English legislation drafted in the early 1970s and therefore reflects practice that is effectively 40 years old. The Bill will deliver a framework for adoption that is more consistent with the principles and provisions of the Children Order 1995 and international human rights requirements.
The substance of the Bill relates to adoption, although I propose to also make changes to the Children Order. The Bill will be substantive. The current draft contains approximately 140 clauses and five schedules.
“In the main, the Bill is based on policy proposals consulted on in 2006. However, it also contains new provisions not previously consulted on but which I consider will deliver improved outcomes for children and young people, both in relation to adoption and children's social care. As part of the consultation on the Bill, I will also seek views on a number of further proposed changes to adoption, safeguarding and children's legislation.
“I firmly believe that it is extremely important that an Adoption and Children Bill is introduced as soon as possible. The Bill is long overdue. I therefore intend to seek Executive agreement to consult on the draft Bill, with the intention of introducing it in the Assembly as soon as possible in the current mandate.”
Thanking the Minister for her answer he then asked her for more details.
“ I am sure that most people will be pleased that there is movement on the issue. Will she outline what policy proposals in and around this she is preparing to consult on?” he asked.
“Professor Alexis Jay undertook a review of the Safeguarding Board in April of last year. The review report was submitted to the Department, and I accepted all the report's findings in August this year,” she replied.
“One of that report's key recommendations was that, in the longer term, the creation of a statutory child protection partnership should be considered as a replacement for the Safeguarding Board, with wider safeguarding sitting within an overarching Children and Young People's Strategic Partnership (CYPSP). I intend to consult on whether to include additional provisions in the Adoption and Children Bill to establish a statutory child protection partnership and place the CYPSP on a statutory basis.
“I also intend to consult on the duty of the Health and Social Care Board to provide information about adoption support services; to introduce a right for the descendants of adopted people to access records and intermediary services; to place arrangements for duly approved placements — that is, individuals or couples approved to foster or adopt — on a statutory basis; to amend the Children Order 1995 to strengthen arrangements in respect of private foster carers; and to seek views on the introduction of contact/no contact orders to ensure that the authorities are clear that their duty is to safeguard and promote the welfare of looked-after children when making contact arrangements.”