The Adoption and Children Bill has today reached a significant milestone by passing the final stage in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
This critical piece of legislation 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.
Health Minister Robin Swann, said: “This much needed and long overdue legislation will firmly place children at the centre of decisions that have an enduring impact on their lives.
“It will 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 and today we have reached a significant day for adoption and children’s social care in Northern Ireland.”
The Bill is expected to become law in the coming months, following which the Department will develop regulations and put in place guidance to give full effect to the provision in the Bill.
The Minister continued: “The Bill will improve support for children in need, children in care and those who have left care. In particular, it will introduce Special Guardianship Orders, which will offer more children the opportunity to grow up in a stable and loving home outside the care system. These improvements are particularly vital at a time when there are more children in care than ever before in Northern Ireland.”
In conclusion the Minister commended all those who contributed to the development of the legislation. He said: “I would like to extend my sincere thanks to everyone who contributed to the development of this legislation, in particular the HSC Trusts, voluntary organisations, adoptive parents, foster carers and, most importantly the children and young people. Their involvement will remain vital as my Department embarks on the task of developing the secondary legislation and guidance required to bring about the changes provided for by the Bill and I wish them well as they further progress this work.”
Notes to editors:
1. The Bill is the outworking of the Department’s commitment to legislative reform. The wide-ranging reforms that it brings about mirror changes that were introduced for England and Wales in 2002 and for Scotland in 2007.
2. 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.
- Establish a requirement for enhanced focus on the paramountcy of the child’s welfare and the rights of the child in the context of adoption.
- Tackle delay in the adoption process.
- Introduce a new permanence option – Special Guardianship Orders - for children for whom adoption is not suitable, with support for those involved in these arrangements.
- Improve support for children in care and care leavers by placing care planning and advocacy services on a statutory basis; create a duty to promote, facilitate and support their learning and development and their achievement in relation to education and training, and to prevent its disruption;
- Introduce a number of principles which those responsible for children in care must adhere to, including promoting high aspirations for them, delivering safety and stability for them and preparing them for adulthood and independent living.
- Enable HSC Trusts to offer children and families in need greater financial support and to provide short break care to children with a disability without them needing to become looked after.
3. As at the end of January 2022, 3,576 children in Northern Ireland were in care, an increase by 52% (1,220) since 2002, when there were 2,356 children in care.
4. The latest statistics on children’s social care during the Covid-19 pandemic are published monthly at https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/articles/temporary-information-releases-during-covid-19
5. Anyone interested in finding out more about adopting or fostering should visit the HSC Adoption and Foster Care Service website at: https://adoptionandfostercare.hscni.net or call 0800 0720 137
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