Adoption, in law as in life, has always been part of 'the family', a unit customarily viewed as indispensable to society. The closing decades of the twentieth century the context of family, family law and society that has always shaped adoption has undergone profound change in all the developed nations. Consequent developments on both the private and public fronts of family law have directly impacted upon the number of children in need of care away from their family of origin. As the structures for 'society' and 'family' have become less certain so the law has fallen back to defend the lowest and most vulnerable common denominator. The displacement of parental rights by the principle of parental responsibility has marked a shift in emphasis in family law from structure to content, from status to duty. The step from protecting the welfare interests of a child to advancing their rights has been one of the most important developments in recent family law.