Adoption law to curb political correctness

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The Independent Online
Voluntary agencies, church groups and charitable bodies could be given a key role in deciding the suitability of would-be adoptive parents in a bid by the Prime Minister to stamp out political correctness in adoption and reduce the influence of social workers.

John Major, has asked the Downing Street Policy Unit to examine all alternatives to local authority social workers who at present carry out the bulk of assessment work, in advance of unveiling a Conservative election manifesto pledge to reform adoption law.

The Policy Unit review comes amid mounting concern about the plight of the 55,000 children in local authority care, a number of whom Mr Major believes could be being denied the chance of a stable adoptive family because of political correctness in council social services departments.

A party source said: "He is concerned about cases such as the couple on a blacklist because they had too many books in the house, or the mixed- race child who had to wait three years while social workers tried to find a mixed race couple."

If the Conservatives win the election, the Government plans to revive the draft adoption Bill which was dropped before this autumn's Queen's Speech. The Bill was axed because of fears that it would re-ignite the fury over family values that had been generated by the divorce law changes. But amid mounting concerns for children moving through a succession of dif- ferent foster parents, or at risk of being institutionalised or abused in care homes, Mr Major now views the reform of adoption procedures as a priority for the next Parliament.

The source conceded that most of the expertise in assessment for adoption lay with social-work departments in local authorities. But under the plans being developed, other bodies, including the religious adoption agencies, children's charities and local church-based groups, would be encouraged to take on a far greater role in the work of matching a child with an adoptive family.

The possibility of allowing new organisations to set themselves up as private-sector bodies rather than within the voluntary/charitable sector has not yet been ruled either in or out by Downing Street. But a full-scale "privatisation" of adoption assessment - which would provoke warnings about "baby-farming" practices common in some overseas countries - is believed to be unlikely.

The assessment of prospective adopters would be carried out within a strict legal framework setting out the rights of natural parents, children and prospective adopters.

The Government hopes that widening the field will lead to a cultural change in favour of adoption as a natural choice for women, as it once was, who face difficulties in looking after their babies.