The number of adoptions fell in 2003 for the first time since 1998. There were 5,354 children adopted through courts in England and Wales in 2003. This is 21 per cent fewer than in 1993, but 16 per cent more than the low of 4,617 in 1998. The number of adoptions increased gradually each year from 1998 to reach 5,485 in 2002, before falling by 2.4 per cent in 2003.
Over the period 1993 to 2003, there were steady decreases in the proportions of adopted children who were aged 5 to 9 and 10 to 14, and a significant increase in the proportion who were aged 1 to 4. By 2003, 46 per cent of children adopted were in this latter age group compared with 27 per cent in 1993, while 14 per cent of adopted children in 2003 were aged 10 to 14 against 23 per cent ten years earlier.
The proportion of adopted children who were born outside marriage increased fairly steadily between 1993 and 2003. Of all children adopted in 2003, 74 per cent were born outside marriage compared with 57 per cent in 1993. Some of these adoptions may be step-children adoptions following the marriage of the natural mother.
A longer-term trend is available from the number of entries in the Adopted Children Register. Based on date of entry in the Register, there were 21,495 adoptions in England and Wales in 1971. The number fell rapidly during the 1970s and steadily over the 1980s and 1990s.
The rapid decline in the number of children available for adoption followed the introduction of legal abortion in the Abortion Act 1967 and the implementation of the Children Act 1975. This latter act required courts dealing with adoption applications for children of divorced parents to dismiss applications for adoption where a legal custody order was in the child’s best interests.
The increased use of contraception and change in attitudes to lone parents also contributed to the long-term fall.
Children are defined as being 17 years or younger.
Adoption figures are produced on two definitions: date of entry into Adopted Children Register and date of court order. The chart , uses data on the date of court order, which are only available from 1991.
These data are preferable to the date of entry into the Adopted Children Register due to the possible time lag that may arise between the date of court order and the subsequent entry into the register.