Major must be in a fix if it's political correctness again

Adoption is not so much a political football as a tiddlywink. Or maybe just a chestnut. Whenever the Government is short of something to say, they brief lobby correspondents with frighteners about "politically correct social workers". Was it supposed to be a distraction from yesterday's Hogg debate?

The last time "politically correct adoption" had a government outing was in the dog days of December. Before that, John Major threw in an ill- informed populist reference to it in his dog's dinner of a conference speech: "I still hear too many stories of politically correct absurdities that prevent children being adopted by loving couples that would give them a good home."

There are fewer than 400 babies for adoption each year - and thousands of couples who want to give them loving homes.

On the Frost Programme recently, the Prime Minister said he wanted to encourage more inter-country adoption - a claim greeted with angry disbelief since the Government's much-used helpline for would-be adopters of foreign children closes down in two weeks' time.

But if adoption isn't working whose fault is it? After two years of consultation, an Adoption Bill was published with all-party approval, harmonising the chaotic differences between local authorities and regulating overseas adoption. But there were no manifesto-titillating politics in it - so it was dropped from the Queen's Speech.

It was dropped partly for fear that it offered the yahoos on the Tory back benches a chance to add absurd amendments - trying to strong-arm single mothers into giving up their babies, for instance. Adoption is such a tiny part of social policy, yet has become an emblem of the family values lobby.

The new regulations the Health Secretary announced yesterday are perfectly sensible. But his social-worker-bashing spin angered adoption agencies. Would-be adopters will have the right to see and challenge social reports that reject them and more lay people will sit on the panels. No big deal, since many panels do this already.

None of this will change who gets chosen as parents for the newborns that most adopters seek. It is not really a question of people being disqualified but of choosing the most likely of the thousands of couples available. There is still a desperate need for people to adopt older children, handicapped, or "challenging" children. Half of all three- to five-year-olds wait at least three years before a family is found for them, with untold extra damage inflicted while they wait. A dedicated 50-year-old single man might well be the most suitable adopter available for a 13-year-old handicapped, disturbed child. It is all a question of the best available for each child at the time.

There are some 55,000 children in care - and the fate of most of them is a national disgrace: 75 per cent leave care with no qualifications. Many end up in prison.

The PM talks as if all these children could simply be adopted - end of problem.

"Mr Major believes it is important for children to be brought up in the stability of a home rather than being institutionalised in children's homes or drifting between various foster families," a spokesman says with devastating banality.

Recent scandals in children's homes may frighten politicians into wanting these children off their hands fast. But damaged children need highly skilled social workers, therapy and intensive education - all of which cost money.