A local businesswoman has launched a campaign against what she believes is a misuse of a law aiming to protect children whose parents are unable to look after them.
Beverly Charnock-Bates has spent the past few months researching the use of Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) after discovering them being used to effectively bypass the strict rules of surrogacy.
SGOs were brought in at the end of 2005 as an alternative to adoption, allowing a ‘special guardian’ - usually a foster carer, grandparent or relative - to have parental responsibility for a child until the age of 18.
The concept behind the order aims to help children looked after by the local authority or a non-looked-after child who is cared for by relatives.
But Mrs Charnock-Bates, of Barkisland, was horrified to read in national media about a married couple - who were succesfully bringing up their own children - using an SGO to “gift” their own baby to relatives unable to conceive. She said: “I thought this is just not right. They have carried this child to give to another couple. Their own baby. It just didn’t seem ethical to me. How has this been allowed to happen?”
Mrs Charnock-Bates said during her research she found respectable law firms suggesting SGOs as an “alternative option” for when intended parents don’t meet the strict criteria for a parental order - needed in surrogacy.
She has since written to the Prime Minister and sought the backing of her MP Craig Whittaker who has submitted questions to Parliament asking ministers what is being done to stop this misuse.
She said: “SGOs can be very good when used as intended. My concern is with private applications regarding babies, where the welfare of the child is not question.
“There is a big demand for babies and we must ensure they are not exploited to meet the needs of adults desperate to become parents.”
Mr Whittaker said: “SGOs are a step in the right direction whoever it does appear that there are unscrupulous lawyers that are using it to provide what would appear to be legal surrogacy.
It’s important that these people understand the spirit of the law and the real benefit that it could bring to children who are in dire need of parental care.
“I’ve asked a question in Parliament and am waiting for a reply from the secretary of state for education. I’m also asking the question on the floor of the House of Commons - to make sure the profile of this issue is raised until we can come to a sensible conclusion to stop this happening.”