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Wednesday, 17 January, 2001, 13:53 GMT
Adoption and the internet
Children up for adoption
Children up for adoption on a US site
The internet offers parentless children a better chance of finding a home. But critics say it has spawned an unregulated global trade in babies.

The process of adopting children, like almost every other aspect of life, has made the leap to cyberspace.

While there are hundreds of websites in the United States dedicated to matching parents with prospective children, in Britain adoption is more heavily regulated.

Anon child
The interests of children should be a top priority
To date, the only known example where photographs of children have been published online, alongside their real names, was a one-off exercise by Derbyshire County Council in 1999.

Local authority social workers decided to "advertise" children for adoption on the net after exhausting more traditional methods to find children homes.

On the face of it, the trial was an overwhelming success. The site registered 19,000 visits in four days from potential and approved adopters.

The council had to employ extra staff to deal with the applications and all six of the children featured found prospective parents. By September last year, two had been placed with their new families.

Disapproval expressed

However, the practice has provoked disapproval in the wake of the case of north Wales couple Alan and Judith Kilshaw, who adopted twins in America via the net.

UK adoption facts 1999
35,000 children removed from care of parents
2,500 placed for adoption
1,300 approved adopters looking for children
Source: Adoption-net
Not only is the internet popular with paedophiles, it helps open up the "market" in overseas adoption, which may be less regulated than in the UK.

The Health Secretary Alan Milburn said if the internet was going to give rise to "more and more trading in children... most people in this country would conclude that that is a very, very retrograde step".

But British agencies are not opposed to the principle of adoption over the net, as long as the interests of the children are put first.

As the Derbyshire case proves, it can work to everyone's advantage.

Adoption-net, a website established on the back of the Derbyshire trial which aims to help couples through the adoption and fostering process, highlights the crisis of parentless children.


In the UK in 1999, "some 35,000 children were legally removed from the care of their parents but only about 2,500 were placed for adoption," the site says.

"At the moment, about 1,300 approved adopters in Britain are seeking a suitable child to adopt."

Adoption via the net started in the US in late 1994. Today, there are hundreds of agencies across the world offering their services and websites display hundreds of thousands of children each month.

There are concerns about the backgrounds of children featured on the net - many are victims of abuse or have been abandoned - and it seems some sites may be making big profits out of their work.

However, Gill Howarth of the Overseas Adoption Helpline says advertising is not the issue.

"Many adoption agencies in the UK have for 20 years or more used different media to raise awareness about the need for adoptive families. That is the reason why the internet is used," she says.

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14 Oct 99 | UK
Net offers adoption hope
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