Western Mail, 21st October 2006
The adoption of Malawian baby David Banda by Madonna and Guy Ritchie has focussed attention on the plight of children in long term care, both in this country and abroad and created a surge of interest from potential adopters.

But is easy to forget that it is not only children in poorer nations who are in need of adoption – the problem is one that is much closer to home.

Take recent statistics from the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, for example, which state that at the last count there were 4,380 children in the care of local authorities in Wales last year.

Of these, only 238 were placed for adoption, while the average wait for a child from entering the care system to successfully going through the adoption process was three years.

It is this last statistic that often crops up as a problem for would-be adopters; they are concerned that bureaucracy makes the process difficult and unwieldy. In fact, given sound advice from early on in the process, the situation is almost always easier to manage.

So what exactly is adoption in the UK? The answer is that when a child is adopted, the parental responsibility for that child transfers to the adopters and the child is seen in law as being the legitimate child of the adopter, just as if they had been born to that person.

At the same time, the parental responsibility of the birth parents ends. The aim of adoption is to provide a secure new home for children that long term fostering may not achieve.

A child can be adopted by either a single person or a couple regardless of their gender, race, religion or sexuality. Adopters must be over the age of 21 and although there is no upper age limit for adoption, a child will not normally be placed with an adoptive parent where the age gap between them is more than 45 years.

The first step for a person considering adoption is to make contact with their local authority or an adoption agency, such as Barnardo’s for more information.

The law then requires local authorities and adoption agencies to carry out a full assessment of potential adopters. This process usually takes about 6 months and looks at the family background and views of the potential adopter, their experience and reasons for wanting to adopt.

A medical report and references for the adopter need to be provided and confidential enquiries will be made with the police and social services. A report is then put before the Adoption panel, which decides whether to approve the person as an adopter.

Once approval has been given, the local authority or agency match the adopter with a suitable child, taking into account any particular needs the child has, and their background and characteristics. After an introduction process, the child goes to live with their new family. Once they have settled in and lived with the adoptive parent for a set period of time (depending on the type of placement), an application for an adoption order can be made to the Court.

Turning to overseas adoption; my feeling is that this has increased considerably because of the desire of adopters to find babies and much younger children.

Last year, for example, the average age of a child when adopted in Wales was 4 years and 6 months. It is comparatively unusual for new born babies to be available for adoption in the UK and can lead to potential adopters looking abroad. However, the numbers are still not very big. Last year, fewer than 400 children were adopted from a foreign country in England and Wales.

Where a person wishes to adopt a child from overseas, they must satisfy the criteria not just for this country, but for the country the child comes from as well. And the procedure varies from country to country.

Some countries, such as Romania, do not allow children to be adopted overseas at all. If the country the child is living in is a signatory to the Hague Convention, or on the Home Office “Designated List”, the adoption order made in that country will be recognised in this country. If not, it will be necessary to apply to adopt the child in the Courts in this country also.

It is also worth remembering the financial cost of an overseas adoption is usually considerably higher than for a UK adoption because fees will be payable in both countries and because of the cost of travel to and from the country the child is living in. In Madonna’s case this is clearly not an issue, but the process remains the same.

This process is generally longer as once the assessment is carried out in the UK, the information then needs to be passed to the foreign country for their own procedures to be followed. It usually takes between 1-3 years to adopt a child from overseas and can cost around £15,000.

For those interested in adopting abroad, the procedure will vary depending on the country the child is living in. But the first port of call for a potential adopter is still their local authority, or a local adoption agency.