Councils named in adoption crisis

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NEW EVIDENCE that local authorities are refusing to allow thousands of children in care to be adopted has emerged in a nationwide survey by House of Commons officials.

Some councils with hundreds of young people in their care permit only a handful of adoptions each year, according to the figures. Several Labour- run London boroughs are among those with the lowest rates of finding permanent new families for problem children.

Until now, pro-adoption pressure groups could not find out how many of the 51,000 children in care were being adopted in each area, but the number being placed has dropped from 21,000 a year in the Seventies to 2,000. The first detailed breakdown was compiled by researchers in the Commons library.

The statistics have fuelled allegations that the "anti-adoption culture" of social workers is condemning young people to grow up in council-run homes. The Independent revealed last month that the Government intended to crack down on authorities who were dragging their feet. The figures foreshadow a "league table" being compiled by the Department of Health.

The Commons survey revealed that the number of adoptions in England dropped from 2,500 in 1993 to 1,900 in 1997. The London borough of Ealing had the lowest rate in 1997, when just one of the 393 children in its care was adopted. In the previous two years, Ealing permitted 12 and 8 adoptions respectively.

Ten councils approved the adoption of just 1 per cent of the children they "looked after" in 1997 (see table, plus Hillingdon with three). Another 21 authorities approved the adoption of 2 per cent. They were Greenwich (six children); Hammersmith and Fulham (five); Lambeth (13); Southwark (14); Hounslow (six); Wandsworth (nine); Stockton on Tees (four children); Manchester (26); Salford (seven); Liverpool (20); Sefton (five); North Yorkshire (six); Calderdale (six); Hereford and Worcester (12); Shropshire (six); Sandwell (nine); Devon (20); Somerset (nine); Suffolk (13); Oxfordshire (eight), Surrey (16).

At the other end of the scale, the authorities with the highest percentage of adoptions were Hartlepool, North Lincolnshire and York, which found permanent new homes for 10 per cent of their children.

Julian Brazier, who is the founder of an informal group of pro-adoption MPs, and who commissioned the survey, said the figures were shocking. He was alarmed that London authorities whose running of children's homes had been criticised were among those reluctant to permit adoptions. He hoped that councillors in the areas with low adoption rates would now "sit up and take notice" of the figures. "Children's lives are being blighted as they are moved from one council home to another or one temporary foster parent to another," he said.

Mr Brazier, Tory MP for Canterbury, urged the Government to punish at least one council by closing its adoption service and handing responsibility to a neighbouring authority or voluntary group. This would "concentrate the minds" of other councils, he said.

Last night, local authority leaders admitted that the new figures showed some councils needed to take a more positive attitude towards adoption.

John Ransford, head of social affairs at the Local Government Association, said: "Clearly there are signs that adoption is a course that should be considered more quickly, robustly and actively."

But he insisted that some councils may have high numbers of difficult- to-place children, and their figures did not necessarily mean they were not trying to find adoptive families. "Adoption is for life; you have got to be sure the match is exactly right for the child and for the family," he said.

The Worst Authorities

Council Children in Adoptions % of children

care in care adopted

Ealing 393 1 0.25%

Hackney 466 3 0.6%

Bury 179 1 0.6%

Newcastle 408 3 0.7%

Hants 1,154 8 0.7%

Glos S 140 2 1.4%

Haringey 289 4 1.4%

N Tyneside 283 4 1.4%

Merton 173 2 1.2%

Brent 329 4 1.2%

Figures for 1997