By Joseph Willits
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Yesterday, Jessica Lee MP (Erewash) secured a Westminster Hall debate on the issue of adoption. Adoption levels in the UK, she said "should cause alarm bells to ring" after only 60 children out of 3,660 in care were placed in homes. Lee said it was crucial to "seize the opportunity", and described the "momentum in the House and the country to tackle the challenges affecting the adoption process".
Lee drew on both the experiences of Michael Gove (who discussed how adoption "transformed his life" in the Daily Mail), and Cameron's commitment to making the "process of adoption and fostering simpler". Richard Graham (Gloucester) praised the Government for "showing real leadership on the issue of tackling these problems".
In response to Lee's question at PMQs on 2nd November, Cameron said the adoption process had "become too bureaucratic and difficult, and the result is that it is putting people off. I am absolutely determined that we crack this".
Problems in the adoption process begin in the application stage, with couples being discouraged, said Lee:
"More needs to be done to ensure that all possible applicants are appreciated and encouraged to apply … With the current numbers of successful adoptions, we cannot afford to discourage people at an early stage."
Lee further highlighted the levels of bureaucracy involved, discussing the occasional tediousness of various assessment forms, signalling it out as more of a hindrance than anything else, to potential adoptive parents:
"If every family of every newborn child who goes home from hospital with their natural parents had to produce a fire drill, a pet assessment form and details about its private life, the country would come to a standstill".
Although being careful not to make criticism of the family court, whose "paramount priority … has been and always will remain the welfare of a child" said Lee, "another aspect to speeding up the adoption process is the time limit for courts in completing care and placement proceedings". Edward Timpson MP (Crewe & Nantwich), who wrote on Conservative Home about an improved adoption system, transforming lives, said that further delays could be avoided if the "initial allocation of a care case is done with the utmost expediency and by a judge with the right level of experience". Responding to Timpson, Lee said:
"The Norgrove review proposes a limit of six months in which to complete proceedings. That is certainly a good aspiration, but if that is to be achieved, it will require the coming together of many aspects of how the courts function. "
A particularly sensitive issue with regards to adoption, has been the role of Catholic adoption agencies. Esther McVey MP (Wirral West) suggested that the decline in adoption rates was due to the closing of Catholic adoption agencies, which she described as "the most successful in ensuring that … children remained in families", and a "fundamental need" for those potential adoptive parents coming forward through the Church. McVey raised several question being asked by her constituents:
“When does tolerance become intolerance? Why were we tolerant of other people but not of the Catholic Church? When did equality for the Catholic Church become inequality?”
McVey stressed the importance of appealing to prospective adoptive parents, who have felt neglected by the current system:
"We must look very carefully at how we reach out to people who want to adopt, but for the past couple of years feel that they have been overlooked."