While for most children the best place to grow up is with their birth parents, others are unable to do so. Where this is not possible, society has a clear responsibility to provide children with stability and permanence in their lives. Adoption is traditionally a means of providing a permanent alternative home for children unable to return to their birth parents and the Government believes that more can and should be done to promote the wider use of adoption.


It is widely accepted that adoption needs a stronger focus in terms of ensuring permanency of care for looked after children and addressing the long term implications of adoption for children and families affected by its processes. Changes to The Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 are required to reflect these emerging needs and to ensure that where adoption is the plan, the court will deal with each child’s case in a rigorous but expeditious manner. Since the present law and procedures were settled, there have been changes in the number and profile of children for whom adoption is considered to be in their best interests as well as wider child care law and practice. Furthermore, society’s attitude towards what constitutes a family and ‘family life’ has also changed considerably in the last twenty years.

Process and timing

The Department is developing proposals for new adoption legislation and in doing so, will consider:

  • the findings of the Social Services Inspectorate (SSI) Report Adopting Best Care published in May 2002
  • widespread perception of court delays, and findings published in the Social Services Inspectorate (SSI) Report Review of the Freeing Order Processes in Northern Ireland 2003
  • a recognised need to align adoption legislation with the principles in The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995
  • changes in adoption law, and amendments to the Children Act 1989 in England and Wales, though the implementation of the Adoption and Children Act 2002
  • a recognised need to keep pace with provisions in related legislation in a wider UK and international context such as The Human Rights Act 1998, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)The Children Act 2004 and the Civil Partnership Act 2004
  • developments in social work practice following The Lewis Review in Northern Ireland and the Laming Enquiry and Bichard Reports in England;
  • changes in societal attitudes and the needs of children and families involved in the adoptive process;
  • responses to the adoption questionnaire issued by DHSSPS in August 2004;
  • discussions held during stakeholder engagement workshops in February 2005;
  • responses received to the Adopting the Future consultation

Implementation to date

The Department issued a questionnaire in August 2004 on changes required to the existing legislation and has analysed the responses. It also held a series of four one-day workshops in February 2005 on specific themes based on the changes introduced through the Adoption and Children Act 2002 in England and Wales.

Adopting the Future

On 4th July 2006, Health Minister Paul Goggins unveiled a strategy for a proposed new approach to adoption in Northern Ireland, which seeks to put children's needs at the heart of the process. The strategy, Adopting the Future set out proposals for the changes needed to improve adoption services and was issued for public consultation. 

Future Plans

Work will now begin to implement the final proposals on adoption.  It is anticipated that new legislation will be developed to overhaul the existing law, The Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 . This will also be consulted on.

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