Wednesday, 6 March 2013

LGBT adopters and OSCR's latest decision: putting children first

This week is LGBT Adoption and Fostering week, a great initiative organised by New Family Social, an organisation dedicated to supporting LGBT adopters and foster carers. There’s a critical shortage of parents in the UK at the moment. And many LGBT people are in an ideal position to offer a loving and supporting home to a child or children that needs one.

To mark the week, the agency whose board I chair, Scottish Adoption, organised an event for prospective LGBT adopters as part of our commitment to widening the pool of adoptive parents. As a gay adoptee myself I was really proud to open the event and welcome those who’d come along to take the first steps on their adoption journey. Adopting a child is a privilege, but it’s courageous too. Taking a child who needs a loving home into the privacy of one’s family is no small act of public service.

My opening remarks were short and to the point. At Scottish Adoption we’re committed to providing a quality service that’s in the best interests of children. Being inclusive isn’t an added extra. It’s fundamental to that commitment to quality. As our chief executive, Margaret Moyes blogged today, last year we approved six LGBT adopters, as well as single adopters and others from a diverse range of backgrounds.  Last night’s event will hopefully see those numbers rise in the coming year. 

We’re not doing this to replace those who have more traditionally been part of our adoption pool such as heterosexual couples who have been unable to have children. They remain crucial to us too and over 90 years we’ve built up great expertise at working with them. We’re doing it to diversify and strengthen our pool of adopters because the children we’re here to support have diverse needs too. 

So I wish those who came along last night well. Many of them will go on to make a real difference to the lives of children who need to be adopted.

And then this morning in a timely development, came the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator’s decision on a review of a direction it served on one of our sister voluntary agencies in February, St Margaret’s Children and Family Care society. I blogged about the direction then and you can read OSCR’s decision on the review here.

OSCR’s decision is very clear. It has found that St Margaret’s doesn’t provide public benefit because the way it provides benefit involves unlawful discrimination which causes detriment to particular groups of people. These include same sex couples. And it has concluded that St Margaret’s discriminates directly on the grounds of religion or belief and sexual orientation. It rejected the arguments put forward by St Margaret’s including the claim that it was entitled to claim an exception under the 2010 Equality Act. The rejection is based on the fact that it’s an adoption agency and not a church or a religious community.

St Margaret’s had also claimed that other adoption agencies have disassociated themselves from the Catholic church. I’m very clear that Scottish Adoption has not done that and as a gay Catholic nor would I wish it to. Catholic people are as welcome as anyone else to get in touch with Scottish Adoption to be considered as prospective adopters and some of them may of course be LGBT themselves. That’s what a diverse approach is all about.

The timing of this decision is very tough for St Margaret’s. It comes not just in LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week but in a week of crisis for the Catholic church in Scotland. That said I welcome the decision. As I said in my previous blog, I want St Margaret’s to thrive, because it has long held experience and expertise that the sector can ill afford to lose. But I don’t think this can be at the expense of equality.

St Margaret’s has until 22 April to comply with the charity test set by OSCR and in the meantime has a right of appeal against the review decision. I hope it will now focus on how it can respond positively to the challenge posed by OSCR.  The turnout at Scottish Adoption’s event last night shows what a valuable resource exists amongst LGBT people. The potential impact of all adoption agencies opening their doors to them is very clear.

The real winners will be children.

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