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Follow up on Northern Ireland’s Adoption Regulations

Reports that Northern Ireland’s Adoption practices might be about to enter the 21st Century were, it seems, premature. In a Recent Blog, I commented on the decision by Mr Justice Seamus Treacy in the High Court in Belfast on 18 October that Unmarried and Same-Sex Couples in Northern Ireland should be allowed to adopt children. His Lordship found that an adoption statute that provided otherwise discriminated against both groups, was unlawful and amounted to a breach of human rights.

Well, that triumph of common-sense was short-lived…The very next day, Northern Ireland’s Health Minister, Edwin Poots, confirmed his department intended to appeal the decision. The Health Minister is quoted as follows:  “No one has a right to adopt a Child and, even when approved, prospective adoptive parents may or may not be deemed suitable to adopt a specific child – this relies solely on the best interests of that particular child being served by that arrangement.” “I am not convinced that today’s judgment is ultimately in the best interests of some of the most vulnerable Children in Northern Ireland. It is my intention to urgently appeal this judgment and I am taking this action with a heavy heart.”

Seeing a bandwagon on the move, Jim Allister, leader of political party Traditional Unionist Voice, said this: “There was, in my view, inadequate attention to the paramount benefit to the child of adoption within a regular family unit of a father and a mother and unwarranted equivalence of such to the unnatural setting of a same-sex relationship,” “Once more, we see the human rights mantra being exploited to further divorce the law from the moral expectations and norms of the society it exists to serve.”

And from a spokesman for the Presbyterian Church came this pearl: “The Presbyterian Church believes in the Christian ideal that children should be brought up in a family with male and female married parents and that adoption practices should mirror this as closely as possible to provide what the Church believes is best for children and society.”

It is no small irony that this declaration of intent from Northern Ireland’s Health Minister (spurred on by his well-wishers) comes on the same day as the results of a study are published by psychologists from the University of Central Los Angeles on outcomes depending on whether adopted children are placed with gay, lesbian or heterosexual parents. 

The study involved a cohort of 82 vulnerable children from foster care in Los Angeles County. Of those children, 60 were placed with heterosexual parents and 22 were placed with gay or lesbian parents (15 with gay male parents and seven with lesbian parents). The children ranged in age from 4 months to 8 years, with an average age of 4.

They presented with multiple risk factors at the time of adoption, including premature birth, prenatal substance exposure, abuse or neglect, and multiple prior placements. Psychologists studied the children two months, one year and two years after they were placed with a family. They found very few differences among the children at any of the assessments over the two-year period following placement. All children achieved significant gains in their cognitive development, and their levels of behaviour problems remained stable. This was despite the fact that the children adopted by gay and lesbian families had more risk factors at the time of their placement; out of nine risk factors, they averaged one additional risk factor, compared with the children adopted by heterosexual parents.

"The children adopted by gay and lesbian parents had more challenges before they were adopted and yet they end up in the same place, which is impressive," said Letitia Anne Peplau, research professor of psychology at UCLA and co-author of the study.

The results of this latest study will come as no surprise whatever to those, with even a passing interest in evidence-based Child Health and Welfare. The results echo similar studies conducted around the globe. Outcomes are consistent. Sexual orientation of adoptive or foster parents makes precisely no difference to the quality of Parenting provided. Senior author Jill Waterman, a UCLA adjunct professor of psychology, said, "Children need people who love them, regardless of the gender of their parents."

That is the evidence-led conclusion that we see time and again. It is a conclusion with which Edwin Poots (et. al.) disagrees. That he does can only be the result of a desire to enshrine his personal prejudices against gays and lesbians in legislation. What is most shameful about that is his willingness to deny vulnerable children a chance to thrive in a loving family unit to do so.

Duncan Ranton is a Family & Divorce Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers. For a free initial consultation call freephone 0808 175 8000 or contact us online and we will call you.