Progress on the Adoption and Children Bill

Date published: 05 October 2021

Speaking following the second reading of the Adoption and Children Bill, Health Minister Robin Swann has welcomed the progress on the Bill.

The Bill will modernise the legal framework for adoption in Northern Ireland and improve outcomes for children and families in need, children in care and those who have left care.

The Minister said: “The Adoption and Children Bill is a critical piece of legislation that will ensure children are put firmly at the centre of the adoption process. 

“I want to cut unnecessary delays and uncertainty for children and improve support mechanisms for everyone involved in adoption. I am committed to making the adoption process as efficient and robust as possible.” 

There are currently 3,564 looked after children in Northern Ireland, an increase of 45% since 2002 and 6% since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Minister continued: “The Bill will improve support for children in need, children in care and those who have left care. These improvements are particularly vital at a time when there are more children in care than ever before in Northern Ireland.”

The Bill is the outworking of the Department’s commitment to legislative reform. The wide-ranging reforms that it will bring about are long overdue, mirroring changes that were introduced for England and Wales in 2002 and for Scotland in 2007.

The Minister concluded: “Now more than ever, we need foster carers and prospective adopters to offer a safe, stable and caring home for children who cannot live with their family.  Foster carers and adoptive parents have the ability to transform the life of a child or young person.  I encourage anyone thinking of adopting or becoming a foster carer to take that step and find out the difference they can make by offering a child a loving family home.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. The Bill will:
  • Mandate support for anyone affected by adoption. Given that the majority of children are adopted from the care system, post-adoption support is critical to prevent disruption and/or breakdown of adoptions.
  • Enhance the focus on the welfare and best interests of the child, establishing a clearer focus on the paramountcy of the child’s welfare and the rights of the child.
  • Tackle delay.
  • Introduce a new permanence option – Special Guardianship Orders - for young people for whom adoption is not suitable.
  • For children in care and care leavers, it places care planning and advocacy services on a statutory basis; creates a duty to promote their educational achievement and to prevent disruption to their education and training; and introduces a number of principles which those responsible for their care must adhere to, including promoting high aspirations for them, delivering safety and stability for them and preparing them for adulthood and independent living.
  • For children and families in need, it enables Health and Social Care Trusts to offer them greater financial support and to provide short break care to children with a disability without them needing to become looked after.
  1. According to the latest available statistics (HSCB Delegated Statutory Functions Statistical Report, 2019-20) as at 31 March 2020, 79% of looked after children were in a foster care placement, with 50% of those children placed with a kinship foster carer. Despite the increase in the number of children being taken into care, the number of non-kinship foster carers has decreased from 1,060 in 2011 to 996 in 2020.
  1. As at 27 September 2021, 3,564 children in Northern Ireland were in care, an increase by 45% (1,111) since 2002, when there were 2,453 children in care.

The latest statistics on children’s social care during the Covid-19 pandemic are published weekly at

  1. Anyone interested in finding out more about adopting or fostering should visit the HSC Adoption and Foster Care Service website at or call 0800 0720 137
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