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Britain Announces Shake-up of Adoption Laws

November 5, 1993

LONDON (AP) _ Would-be parents who are older, fatter or of different races may have a better chance of adopting a child under a proposed shake-up of British adoption laws.

Homosexuals, though, are still barred from adopting, and ″there must be a strong presumption in favor of adoption by married couples,″ Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley told Parliament Wednesday.

After a spate of publicized cases in which adoption was refused for controversial reasons, Mrs. Bottomley said it was time to put children before ideology.

″We want common-sense judgements, not stereotyping,″ she said, presenting the government’s policy document to the House of Commons.

There are no good grounds for refusing ″on principle″ adoptions between different races, or adoptions by parents over a certain age, she said.

The white paper, which must be approved by Parliament, proposes giving children over 12 the right to participate in their own adoption proceedings and the right to veto an adoption.

It also says that potential adopters should be judged primarily on the care, affection and stability they can offer a child. The proposed legislation is almost certain to pass, since the ruling Conservative Party has a majority in parliament.

In July, Jim and Roma Lawrence were refused a mixed-race child after social workers found them ″racially naive.″

Mrs. Lawrence, born in Guyana in South America, and her white husband had said they had experienced no racism in Cromer, the quiet eastern English town where they live. Social workers said they had ″a lack of understanding of racial issues.″

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, many white, mainly middle-class families adopted black children. But in 1989, the Children Act introduced the idea of putting a child in a family ″whose racial, cultural and religious origins reflect his own.″

The British Association for Adoption and Fostering says a white family cannot properly equip black children of minorities to deal with the racism they will inevitably encounter.

The majority of black or mixed-race children are placed with black or mixed families. That often means that minority children are placed in orphanages, instead of adoptive homes, because of the shortage of black or mixed families.

Sarah Davis, adoptions policy officer with the children’s charity Barnardos, said the government proposal fails to recognize the right of black children to a black adoptive family.

It ″has pushed adoption too far toward the needs of the adopter and too far away from the needs of the child.″

Opposition Labor Party spokesman David Blunkett welcomed the white paper. ″The right parent or parents for the right child is all that matters. It isn’t age, status, weight or height or anything else that matters,″ he said.

Last year health worker Sarah Beart, then 35, and her 45-year-old husband Jonathan, an accountant, were told by social workers in Cambridgeshire they could not adopt because he was too old.

Just last month, foster mother Yvonne Edwards, 33, was barred from taking in more children because she weighs 322 pounds.

″We have been told we are bad role models and that our eating habits set a bad example,″ she said. Her husband weighs 435 pounds. The social services department said there had never been a complaint about their care.

″It is the love and care that you give to children which is the most important thing,″ said Mrs. Edwards on Wednesday.

Nearly 7,000 children are adopted each year in Britain, but only 1,000 of those are in the most favored category of under one year.

With 100,000 couples waiting to adopt, however, social workers can afford to be choosy.

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