As we recently saw, applications for places in care are at an all-time high. This is sad news for society and sad news for the youngsters who face years in children’s homes without the support of a family – even if they have been removed from chaotic or abusive home lives. Many will go on to struggle in education and continue to struggle once they reach the age of majority and are left to fend for themselves.
It is in everyone’s interests then, to encourage the adoption of needy, care home kids by parents with space to spare in their lives. The dilemma faced by adoption authorities is how to do so without throwing caution to the window and allowing the unsuitable to adopt children who may already have been damaged by fractured family lives. The law takes adoption orders very seriously – once issued, they are very difficult to revoke.
Adoption authorities navigate their way through these tricky waters with careful adherence to the relevant regulations and laws. Occasionally adoption laws fail to slot into real life and everyone is left scratching their heads. A recently reported story from Bradford is an interesting example.
Builder Andrew Shackleton, 40, originally from Bradford, lives in Sydney, Australia, and has a son by his first wife. On a trip back to theUK, he met dental nurse Carol, 39, who is also from Bradford. They made plans to start a new life together in Australia, along with Carol’s two children Bradley, 18, Angel, 14, and prospective adoptee Emma, nine. Emma, who is the daughter of Carol’s niece, has lived with her since the age of five months under a residency order.
As part of her plans to emigrate, Carol began proceedings to formally adopt Emma. Later, in January this year, she and Andrew decided to get married in order to assist with Australian immigration rules. Then in April, when the couple attended what they had expected to be the final adoption hearing for Emma, they were told they were no longer eligible to adopt. Why? Because as they were now married, the adoption application for Emma had become a joint one – this is not quite the same as the claim by The Bradford & Telegraph that the adoption application had been blocked because they were married. To quote Julie Jenkins of Bradford Council:
“Mr and Mrs Shackleton have now made an application to adopt together but they live in separate countries. The law states that for a dual application to adopt a child, both applicants must have lived with the child for a period of six months continuously or three to five years not continuously. It is this issue that is preventing the adoption, not their marital status.”
Unsurprisingly, the Shackletons are very unhappy about the council’s decision. Preparations for their emigration were at an advanced stage and they have now been told that they must live together in theUKfor at least six months in order for the adoption to proceed. Mr Shackleton would be unable to visit his son in Australia during that time.
Mrs Shackleton said: “Social services though seem to think that Andrew should abandon his son in Australia for six months or more to fulfil their criteria.”
She added: “It is maddening. We’ve even talked about divorce as a way round this. We only ever wanted the best for our family, but social services are standing in the way of our future together in Australia. You try to give your children a stable home life, but by marrying we have made it all so much harder. We are hoping someone somewhere can see common sense and back us to be together.”
When reading this story it is hard not to feel sympathy for the Shackletons and to wonder whether in this instance, legal technicalities are hindering common sense.