Minister O’Neill launches public consultation on the draft Adoption and Children Bill

Date published: 16 January 2017

Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill today launched a 12 week public consultation on a draft Adoption and Children Bill.

The Bill will modernise the legal framework for adoption in the north of Ireland and place children’s welfare at the centre of the adoption decision-making process.

Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill said: “I am delighted to announce the launch of the consultation on the draft Adoption and Children Bill.

 “I want to make the adoption process as efficient and robust as possible, cutting out unnecessary delay and uncertainty for children. This Bill will ensure that the child is put firmly at the centre of the adoption process and support mechanisms will be improved for anyone involved in adoption, hopefully making it possible for more people to consider adoption and provide much needed loving, stable family homes." 

The substance of the Bill relates to adoption, although the Bill also contains provisions which amend wider children’s legislation.

 Provisions included in the Bill will:

  • enhance the focus on the welfare and best interests of the child;
  • tackle delay;
  • introduce a new permanence option – Special Guardianship Orders - for young people for whom adoption is not suitable;
  • replace Freeing Orders with Placement Orders – a new pre-adoption order that will retain the successful elements of freeing but will also provide a more effective balance of the competing interests in the adoption process, primarily establishing a clearer focus on the paramountcy of the child’s welfare and the rights of the child; and
  • reinforce the continued provision of adoption support.

The Bill is the outworking of the Minister’s commitment to legislative reform. Whilst the substance of the policy was consulted on previously, the draft Bill also contains new provisions which the Department is seeking views on.  The consultation document also sets out further policy proposals which have the potential to be included in the draft Bill before its introduction in the Assembly.

Minister O’Neill continued: “The Adoption and Children Bill will create greater opportunities for older children to benefit from permanence and stability by offering them an alternative route to permanence. It will reduce drift and delay for young people who are unable to live at home by introducing a principle of no delay and court timetabling and will also provide for better quality, consistent and efficient services for everyone affected by adoption.

Speaking specifically about eligibility criteria, the Minister said: “The provision in the Bill as it relates to eligibility to apply to adopt reflects the findings of the court of appeal in June 2013. This means that unmarried couples, including same sex couples are able to apply to adopt children in the north. The Bill puts that beyond doubt.

“I firmly believe that it is extremely important that an Adoption and Children Bill is introduced as soon as possible. Further delay will result in much needed changes to adoption and children’s legislation, to improve the outcomes for our most vulnerable children, not being introduced. 

 “I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all those who have an interest in adoption and children’s law more generally to make their views known.”

 The consultation will end on 10 April 2017.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Media enquiries about this press release should be directed to the Department of Health press office on 028 9052 0567, or out of office hours contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07623 974383 and your call will be returned. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt
  2. The consultation documents are available on the Department of Health website at:
  3. Hard copies of the consultation package can be requested by contacting 028 9052 2169, e-mailing or by writing to the following address:

Department of Health
Adoption and Children Bill Team
Room A3.3
Castle Buildings

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