For many, Christmas is a time to celebrate with their loved ones. Yet a recent government report indicates that this year more than 75,000 children in England will be spending their Christmas in the care of their local authority. As the number of children needing a home increases, why are adoption rates at an all-time low?
From our experience, one reason is the increasing success rate of IVF treatments. For those who cannot conceive naturally, IVF opens up the possibility of still having a child with whom you have a biological connection. Since the emergence of IVF, its success rates in the NHS have risen from a mere 7% to almost 30%. However, generally IVF is only available on the NHS for women under 40 and in some areas under 35. The international options though are far more extensive than they used to be which has led to many childless couples looking overseas for fertility treatment where often the costs are significantly less than in the UK. This has opened up the IVF options to many couples for whom the expense may otherwise have been an issue.
As alternative fertility treatments bring hope to thousands of people who want a biological connection to their child, the knock on effect is a staggering 62% drop in adoptions over the last 40 years. But the success of these other treatments is not solely to blame.
Adoption laws are in desperate need of improvement. Howard Kennedy surveyed attendees at this year's Fertility Show held at London's Olympia and found that, of all areas of fertility law, 35% of those surveyed believed that adoption laws most needed reform. Reasons cited included the delay in matching, delay in decision making and a lack of support and information, both during and after the adoption process.
It can take on average two years for a child to be successfully matched and placed with their adopters. The process itself can be demanding, including a number of assessments and background checks.
It is worth noting that a child can be adopted either by a single person or by a couple, whether married, in a civil partnership or not. This is not the case for surrogacy arrangements where a parental order can only be granted to a couple who are either married, in a civil partnership or living together and who have a genetic connection to the child and so it could be argued that more flexibility needs to be explored in this area too.
Nobody who is willing and able to provide a child with a loving home should be denied the right to do so and equally no child should ever be denied that home. 75,000 children without a family at Christmas is a heart-breaking statistic to bear and it feels disingenuous to place blame only on the emergence of IVF when current adoption laws are so woefully inadequate. We all have the right to a family life, as protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and so when the choice to conceive that family naturally is taken from us, it is the duty of the state to uphold that right through other means, such as adoption. Urgent action must be taken if we are to avoid seeing the same statistics repeated next Christmas. Maybe another one to add to Theresa May's New Year Resolutions?