The Adoption and Children Act 2002: An Overview
The new Adoption and Children Act 2002 came into force in December 2005, replacing the Adoption Act 1976 and the Children Act 1989. The new Act modernised the law regarding adoptive parenting in the UK and international adoption. It also enabled more people to be considered by the adoption agency as prospective adoptive parents. The new Act also places the needs of the child being adopted above all else.
The Main Changes to the LawThe new Act has a number of key components that include:
1: The Child at the CentreIt was recognised that foster care and adoption sometimes overlooked the actually needs of the children in these situations. The new Act makes it a judicial responsibility for all the agency’s involved in the adoption process must put the needs and welfare of the child first. This is the Act’s guiding principle.
2: No Blanket BanIn the past some adoption agencies had a policy that would ban certain groups of people from adopting children. A good example is people that smoke. It is now a legal requirement that the adoption agency looks at each prospective parent that wants to adopt in more detail, often taking medical advice before they come to their final decision.
3: No Postcode LotteryThe adoption agencies across the country had varied their assessment process. The new Act gives these agencies guidelines they must follow. This should deliver a more consistent assessment process for all adoptive people moving through the adoption process.
4: Better Matching ProcessOnce you have been accepted as an adoptive parent, the matching process of finding you a child could take up to a year. In the past, the criteria of this matching process has been quite restrictive. The new Act makes the matching process more flexible and again puts the needs of the child first.
5: More InformationOne of the most important aspects of the new Act was to give prospective adoptive parents more information. The child’s permanence report is now more detailed and gives you as the possible new parent of the child more information to decide if the child is a good match with you and your family.
6: Better SupportIt has been recognised that adoptive parents often need support. The systems and schemes that are in place have been enhanced to ensure that the adoption you are making is successful.
Special GuardianshipIn the past children looking for a new home would have been placed with adoptive parents, offered foster parents, or would live with existing family. The amendment to the Children Act 1989, that the Adoption and Children Act includes creates a new option called Special Guardianship.
For children that are in care, adoption can sometimes not be appropriate for them. Often, the children in this situation want a stable family life, but they want to maintain a link with their birth parents that an adoption would remove under the current judicial law. There is also a religious component to consider. In some ethnic communities the religion of the group prevents an adoptive parent from calling the child their own.
In these circumstances a new legal framework was needed to provide the child with a stable family foundation, which could be especially important with international adopting, but a way was needed to main the legal link with the child’s birth parents. Special Guardianship solves this problem.
How Special Guardianship worksOne or more people can be appointed as a child’s Special Guardian. This means:
- You would have complete legal responsibility for the child just as if they were your own child or if you have gone through the adoption process including after foster care. This includes where they go to school and authorising any medical treatment.
- Just like an adoption, you have a legal responsibility regarding the child, but unlike an adoption order, under Special Guardian status, the child still maintains their legal link to their birth parents.
- The birth parents of the child still have a legal responsibility including with international adoption, but their parental responsibility is limited.
- The birthmother or father still retain the right to decide whether their child can be formally adopted.
- A special court order is required to change the child’s surname, or to take the child out of the UK for more than three months.
- Special Guardian orders can be ended unlike formal adoptions.
The Adoption and Children Act 2002 places child welfare at the centre of the judicial legislation that now govern the legal guardianship of a child. Reflecting a changing world, the new Act takes into consideration adoption in its wider context recognising the limitations of the previous acts, and moving the courts, local authorities, adoption agencies and their support organisations towards a more integrated system that vastly improves the adoption and guardianship process for the children moving through the system.