This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Adoption and Children Act (which gave lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adopters the same legal rights as heterosexual adopters), and the number of children adopted by LGBT parents has grown year on year.
Record highs were reached last year with nearly 500 children placed with LGBT adopters in loving, stable homes compared with just 120 children four years ago.
Is this going to be a continuing upward trend? During the year ending 31 March 2015, 8.5% (450) of children were adopted by same sex couples (either in a civil partnership, married or neither). In the previous year and before same-sex marriages were introduced, 7% (340) of children were adopted by same sex couples (either in a civil partnership or not).
With more than 68,840 children in the care of local authorities in the UK, let’s hope so.
Is it easier to adopt now than before for LGBT people?
In the UK, it has never been unlawful for a LGBT adult to adopt a child but with the advent of the Adoption and Children Act in 2002, it is now the right of an adopted child to have two legal parents of the same gender. Prior to this, although a child adopted by a same-sex couple might think of both adults as their parents, the law gave the child only the right to one parent in a same-sex couple, whilst a child adopted by a mixed-sex couple would be given the right to both parents.
From the earliest days of adoption in England, it has been possible for single people (regardless of sexual orientation) to adopt. Same sex couples could not adopt and although adoption agencies helped many couples by approving one of the couple singly, it took a change in law in December 2005 when the Adoption and Children Act came into force to allow adoption orders to be granted to unmarried couples, including same sex couples.
Since that time adoption agencies have been able to openly recruit and assess lesbian and gay couples, as well as single adopters, and there are many more LGBT adopters and the numbers continue to increase. The majority of adoption agencies now have experience of assessing, approving and placing children with LGBT adopters and the UK is now one of the world leaders in this respect.
It is now illegal for charities to discriminate against gay couples, a move which effectively forced the closure of all Roman Catholic adoption agencies in England. A much needed move in the right direction with the focus being on the needs of the child(ren) rather than some might say, as a result of a socially unacceptable attitude.
So now that you have decided to adopt – what do you need to know?
- If you are a same sex couple you don’t need to be in a Civil Partnership or married to adopt. The adoption assessment is lengthy and very thorough. You will both be assessed, and will need to demonstrate the stable and enduring nature of your relationship.
- Single adopters are also welcome whatever their sexual orientation.
- You must be aged 21 or over and there is no upper age limit, as long as you are fit enough to cope with the rigours of parenting and to see children through to early adulthood.
- You should not experience discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. After equalities legislation was passed in 2006, a few adoption agencies (with religious objections) ceased operating. All agencies are committed to equal treatment of all potential adopters and in fact many positively welcome applications from LGBT adopters.
- Following a successful assessment, the application is referred to an Adoption Panel. If you are approved by the Panel, you will go through a matching process. This involves a child or young person being placed with you. Depending on the success of this placement, an application can be made to the court for an adoption order. At this stage, further reports will be placed before the court to help them reach a final decision.
There has been encouraging research recently into parenting by lesbian and gay adopters. This has helped to dispel myths and increase agencies’ confidence in placing children. A recent UK study shows, for instance, that:
- The quality of parent-child relationships is just the same when children are adopted by lesbian or gay couples compared to heterosexual couples.
- Children’s psychological development and wellbeing is just the same when children are adopted by lesbian or gay couples compared to heterosexual couples.
- Lesbian and gay adopters felt well equipped to help children deal with difference and that children would have advantages growing up of being tolerant of difference in others.
- Adopted children of lesbian and gay parents don’t experience greater problems at school and in peer relationships compared to children of heterosexual parents, and bullying and teasing is rare.
What about transgender adopters?
Because the numbers are small, adoption agencies may not have experience of transgender people who wish to adopt. However the same laws apply, you can adopt whatever your sexual orientation and are protected from discrimination.