New advice issued on inter-racial adoption

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New adoption guidelines have been announced by the Government to break down the barriers faced by potential parents and children.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said some of the limitations put on adopters in the past - based on ethnicity, sexual orientation and faith - was "social engineering of the worst kind".

Outlining the measures being introduced, the minister said: "At the moment, the system simply doesn't allow many of those people who are desperate to help the chance to give young people and children a loving home.

"It has always been the case unfortunately that far too many children are growing up in circumstances where sadly they won't have the architecture or stability that means they can achieve everything of which they are capable."

The Government said progress in adoption has stalled in recent years, with the number of children placed for adoption falling by 15% between March 2009 and 2010, and more children waiting longer to be adopted.

Black children took over 50% longer on average to be placed for adoption than children from other ethnic groups, and children over five were four times less likely to be adopted compared to children under five in the last year.

Mr Gove said: "What I do find difficult to accept is that we've created over time a web of rules that mean that we are not always putting the interests of children first.

"We all know that the length time which children spend in institutional care once they be been taken into care is far too long, when those children could be adopted by loving parents."

He said the average amount of time children spend in care before being adopted is 21 months.

"One of the reasons that they sound so long is that for far too long, we have made an idea of the perfect the enemy of the good," he said.

Speaking about the barriers faced by adopters previously, he said: "We said that this particular couple can't adopt because, in the past, they might have the wrong sexuality, they might even have the wrong ethnic background.

"It could be that they're too young, it could be that their social background doesn't make for perfect match. That sort of thinking is social engineering of the worst kind."

Hitting back at critics who say children should only be adopted by people of the same cultural background, Mr Gove said: "Actually, it's a culturally right decision for us to say that we're not going to be bound by skin colour, or faith, or ethnic background."

He spoke about his own experience of being adopted at the age of four months.

He said: "There's one area of my direct responsibility that means even more to me, and that is the ability that we have to ensure that children who grow up in the most vulnerable circumstances can be given a loving and stable home.

"I was given a second chance. And as a result of the love and affection, the stability and care that my parents gave me, all the opportunities that I subsequently had in life were there because they chose, at a critical moment in my life, to become my parents."

The new guidelines aim to give more children the chance to be adopted where it is in their best interests, particularly those from ethnic minority backgrounds, older children and those with disabilities. The Government says some of these children are not even considered for adoption.

Local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies were called on to be more welcoming towards all potential adopters, and not to turn people away on the grounds of race, age or social background.

The Government has issued revised adoption guidance for local authorities, published today, and is investigating how the inspection of adoption services at local authorities could be strengthened.

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: "Adoption can provide a permanent loving home for a child in care, so it's disappointing that the latest statistics show a decline in adoption rates and significant variation across the country.

"Some local authorities place just 2% of their children in care for adoption, compared to 16% in other parts of the country.

"While there are many fantastic local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies, I want all the professionals involved in adoption to take note of the updated guidance.

"I want to see more children placed for adoption, where this is in their best interests, particularly those who may have been overlooked, like older children, children from BME (black and minority ethnic) backgrounds and those with disabilities.

"Over the coming months, I will be looking at whether the current inspection arrangements for adoption services can be strengthened. I also want local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies to welcome people who come forward to adopt.

"While not all people will be suitable, local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies should give everyone who approaches them a fair hearing and in no circumstances turn them away because of their race, age or social background."

David Holmes, chief executive of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), said: "We welcome the Government's firm commitment to adoption and in particular the publication of this timely new guidance which we contributed to extensively.

"It is important to recognise that there is much good practice already in adoption, although this is not always uniformly applied.

"The challenge is to ensure that every agency builds on best practice to ensure that no child is deprived of a loving adoptive home.

"Adoption provides very clear benefits to children in very vulnerable circumstances - we must all ensure that whenever a child needs adoption, that that plan is realised without delay."