Paramountcy, family rights and contested adoption: does contact with birth relatives balance the scales?

Mandi MacDonald, Priscilla McLoughlin

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This article combines practitioner insight and research evidence to chart how principles of partnership and paramountcy have led to birth family contact becoming the expected norm following contested adoption from care in Northern Ireland. The article highlights how practice has adapted to the delay in proposed reforms to adoption legislation resulting in the evolution of increasingly open adoption practices. Adoption represents an irrevocable transfer of parental responsibility from birth to adoptive parents and achieves permanence and legal security for children in care who cannot return to their birth family. Its enduring effect, however, makes public adoption a contentious field of child welfare practice, particularly when contested by birth parents. This article explores how post-adoption contact may be viewed as reconciling the uneasy interface between paramountcy principles and parental rights to respect for family life. The article highlights the complexity of adoptive kinship relationships following contested adoption from care, and how contact presents unique challenges that mitigate against meaningful and sustainable connections between the child and their birth relatives. In conclusion, a call is made for sensitive negotiation and support of contact arrangements, and the development of practice models that are informed by an understanding of the workings of adoptive kinship.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-407
JournalChild Care in Practice
Issue number4
Early online date15 Sep 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Submission to special edition marking 20 years of the Children (NI) Order


  • Children's Rights
  • adoption
  • child care law


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