Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and charities such as Adoption UK and The Fostering Network are encouraging members of the LGBT+ community to consider becoming adopters and foster carers. This particularly helps ensure that children with disabilities and children aged four and over grow up in a stable and homely environment, and prevents siblings being split up between different homes.
At the first-ever Northern Irish Adoption Week last year, the HSCB’s Director of Social Care and Children Marie Roulston explained that: “There are a lot of myths about who can and can’t adopt children. You can adopt if you are over 21, whether you are single or in a couple, whatever your sexual orientation, religious or ethnic background.”
Although same-sex couples could legally adopt since 2013, Northern Ireland has the lowest same-sex adoption rates in the UK. Figures from the end of 2018 show that out of the thirty same-sex couples that have applied for adopter status since the law change, only two have had a child placed with them. In contrast, 235 out of the 481 same-sex couples that had applied for adoption in the rest of the UK have been placed with a child.
That’s a success rate of one-in-fifteen compared to one-in-two.
This is unsurprising given the region is the last in UK and Ireland to enact marriage equality. It’s incredibly challenging to encourage equality in a system that is fundamentally unequal, so a full balance of same-sex adopters across the UK is improbable until the North’s discriminatory law is rectified.
3,281 children were in the care of Northern Irish HSC Trusts in March this year, almost 80% of whom were living in foster care. Meanwhile, around 90 children are adopted in Northern Ireland annually, one-third of whom generally need placement alongside a sibling.
Kathleen Toner, Director of The Fostering Network in Northern Ireland, commented: “Foster carers play a vital role in transforming the lives of the children in their care. Across Northern Ireland, we need hundreds of more foster families and are therefore urging those from the LGBT+ community to consider whether they could foster. There are already many fantastic LGBT+ foster carers, proving that sexual orientation is not a factor which impacts on whether you can foster or not, and we are looking forward to meeting many more prospective carers at Pride next month.”
Roulston emphasised that “we are keen to take the opportunity of local Pride celebrations to get the message out that adoption and fostering is very much open to the LGBT+ community.”
Newry Pride, host to 2019’s UK and Ireland Pride, will take place on Saturday, August 31 2019. An open Pride event centred around adoption and foster caring will be hosted by Adoption UK and The Fostering Network on Thursday, August 29. The event will take place from 7-9pm at Ballybot House. Prospective adopters will be able to discuss their options with social workers and LGBT+ carers.
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