Database to resolve Internet adoption disputes

The Department of Heath has announced a nationwide computer system to match approved adoptive parents with children

Internet adoption rows could be resolved by the launch of a nationwide computer system, which will help to link adoptive families with suitable children in England and Wales.

The Department of Health (DH) on Tuesday announced funding for an online adoption register, which will be managed by the voluntary adoption agency Norwood Ravenswood. The scheme will initially be targeted at families in England and Wales, but the government has confirmed that underpinning legislation will be used to incorporate electronic adoptions into the database this autumn.

The new Adoption and Children Bill -- announced in the Queen's speech as part of the government's new legislative programme -- will be reintroduced in the autumn parliamentary session, and is intended to tighten up the issue of Internet adoption. Earlier this year, the Kilshaw case stirred up controversy over the trade of children on the Internet when an American couple paid £4,000 for two six-month-old twin girls, who were later abducted by their birth mother and sold again to a British couple for twice as much. In light of the Kilshaw case, the DH rushed through legislation in January 2001 that made it illegal for British residents to bring foreign children into the UK for adoption if they haven't been approved by a local authority.

"The critical point is immigration -- you can affect an adoption under foreign law, but [to keep the child] you need to comply with the country law in which you are bringing the child back," said Robin Bynoe, partner at city law firm Charles Russell.

The new register will require local councils to enter details of all children wanting to be adopted and approved adoptive families into the database -- providing that they have contained the consent of both parties beforehand.

"The register will suggest links between approved parents and children, enabling the process to be managed centrally," said a DH spokeswoman.

According to Bynoe, the register is most likely to become critical in cases of private adoption, or inter-country adoption. "If you have been approved for the register, any couple should be able to bring a child back into the country," he explained.

Four thousand adoptions currently take place in the UK each year, compared with 20,000 in the 1960s. Approximately 58,000 children are looked after by councils in England at any one time. The average time spent looking after a child before a decision is made that the child should be adopted is one year and four months -- the average time from decision to actual placement is another seven months.

The new register will be piloting in September.

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