EJ Havlin’s claim referred to the number of adoptions from care; in total, 91 children were adopted in Northern Ireland in 2017-18, which is a low number compared to other years. For 2013-17, Northern Ireland had a lower adoption rate than the rest of the UK, but was similar to that of Ireland.

On 12 February 2019, the BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show discussed whether the weight of parents should matter in the adoption assessment process.

EJ Havlin from Adoption UK made the comment that the numbers of children that have come through the adoption process “are very small” in Northern Ireland. She said: “last year there were 84 children who were adopted” (43:57).

Adoptions from care

The Department of Health (DoH) registers the number of children who are adopted from care in Northern Ireland. Data for the year ending 31 March 2018 confirms Havlin’s claim: 84 children who have been looked after by an authority were adopted.

Adoptions from care means children who are adopted subsequent to having been looked after by an authority: “a child is looked after by an authority if he or she is in their care or if he or she is provided with accommodation for a continuous period of more than 24 hours by the authority in the exercise of its social services function”.

Total of adopted children

Adoptions from care do not include all children adopted in Northern Ireland. The total of adoptions are registered by the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency (NISRA) in their Registrar General Annual Report. In 2017, year ending on 31 December, 91 children were adopted.

While the number of adoptions from care for 2017-18 comes close to the 2017 number of all adoptions, this is not always the case. The number of total adoptions is generally higher; 91 is the lowest number since 1933. From 2006 to 2016, there were on average 49 additional adoptions, on top of those from care each year.

Not all adoptions are from care. NISRA informed FactCheckNI that there are cases of private adoptions from a relative or when a step-child is adopted.

Table: Children adopted in Northern Ireland (2006-16)

From care*60645750556088897289120

*Adoptions from care are being measured in periods of 12 months, starting 1 April and ending 31 March, and so do not completely overlap with the reporting period of all adoptions.

Adoptions in the rest of the UK and Ireland

The rules and processes regarding adoptions differ between Ireland and the UK as well as between the four UK countries. The DoH notes that “there is no common legislative framework operating across the United Kingdom relating to adoption”. Consequently, adoption numbers are reported by local institutions.


There were 72 domestic and 324 intercountry adoptions in Ireland in 2017. It is unclear how many of the domestic adoptions were children that have been looked after. The Adoption Authority of Ireland told FactCheckNI that 21 children were adopted from foster care in 2017.


In Scotland there was a total of 543 adoptions in 2017. The most recent numbers for adoptions from care are for the period between 1 August 2016 and 31 July 2017. During that period, 367 children ceased to be looked after due to adoption.


The total number of adoptions in England is unknown; the Office for National Statistics (ONS) does not hold information on adoptions. Department for Education figures report that from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018, 3,820 children who have been looked after were adopted.


As for England, ONS has no total adoption statistics for Wales. 308 children were adopted from care during 2017-18. Adoption UK Wales pointed out to FactCheckNI that “the overwhelming majority of children adopted in Wales are adopted from care”.

Are adoption numbers small in Northern Ireland?

The tables below summarise adoption numbers and rates for 2017 and for a five year period. Adoption rates per 100,000 citizens are based on the population of Ireland and the UK countries for mid-2017.

Northern Ireland had the lowest adoption rate across the UK in 2017 for children adopted from care as well as for total numbers.

Table: Adoptions and rates, across UK regions and Ireland (2017)

2017Northern IrelandScotlandEnglandWalesIreland
From care84367*3,82030221
Per 100,0004.56.8*6.8>9.90.44
Per 100,0004.8610N/DN/D8.26

*Numbers for 1 August 2016 to 31 July 2017.

Seen across a longer period, from 2013 to 2017, the adoption rates in Northern Ireland were still the lowest of the UK. However, the total adoption rate was slightly higher than Ireland.

Table: Adoptions and rates, across UK regions and Ireland (2013-17)

2013-17Northern IrelandScotlandEnglandWalesIreland
From care4541,657*23,3101,69693
Per 100,00024.330.5*41.954.31.9
Per 100,00032.446.3N/DN/D30

*Numbers for 1 August 2012 to 31 July 2017.

Image: “Holding Hands” by Francois Jacquemin is licensed by Media Bakery.

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