`Anti-adoption culture' to be investigated THE WATCHDOG body for local authorities is set to investigate criticism that councils are reluctant to allow children in care be adopted.

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The Audit Commission said yesterday than an inquiry into adoption was being considered following requests from MPs. David Davis, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, wrote to the commission after The Independent revealed that ministers plan to act over the "anti-adoption culture" of Britain's social workers.

Mr Davis asked Andrew Foster, the commission's controller, to probe the "dreadfully poor results of keeping children in care, and the enormous variation in the levels of adoption in different authorities." Local authorities spend pounds 2.25bn a year on services for children. Although 50,000 are in their care, the number of adoptions has fallen from 21,000 in the seventies to just 2,000 a year.

"This issue has huge implications for social services costs, and even greater consequences for the lives of the children involved," said Mr Davis, Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden. He said an urgent investigation by the commission into local authority practices would be extremely valuable and underpin future government action and policy.

Mr Davis welcomed the decision by a cabinet committee on the family, chaired by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, to launch a review of the adoption laws. Mr Davis believes social workers use existing rules, saying that children should be reunited with their natural parents where possible, as an excuse to avoid adoptions, even though there is often little prospect of them returning home.

Julian Brazier, organiser of an all-party group of MPs which supports adoption, told the commission that 24,000 of the 50,000 children being "looked after" by local authorities had been in care for at least two years.

Most natural parents who took children back from care successfully did so within six months; very few young people returned home if they had been in care for more than 18 months.

"There is a large pool of children who would benefit from being adopted, while the taxpayer would benefit from a considerable cost saving," he said.

Mr Brazier said young people leaving care were 50 times more likely than other children to go to prison; those who had been in care made up 38 per cent of young offenders and 23 per cent of adult prisoners.

"Youth crime currently costs pounds 1bn per annum, and it can clearly be seen that the care system accounts for a substantial proportion of it," said Mr Brazier.

Last night Mr Brazier welcomed the Cabinet's initiative and said his all-party group would keep up the pressure on ministers to bring in a new Adoption Act before the next general election. "This is not about party politics," said Mr Brazier, Tory MP for Canterbury. "The top priority is the welfare of the children. The best place for a child to grow up is in a caring, loving family."