Monica moves to `family centre' before adoption

In the latest round in the public relations battle surrounding the failed attempt by a British couple to smuggle a baby out of Romania, it has been announced that the infant may soon be adopted by a gypsy family in her own country.

For the last six months Monica, the baby Adrian and Bernadette Mooney attempted to bring into Britain, has lived in the Bucharest Number 1 orphanage with hundreds of other abandoned and orphaned children, oblivious to her celebrity status. But her continued presence there has been an embarassment for the Romanian authorities desperate to improve the international image of their childcare system.

Yesterday, the British-based Romanian Orphanage Trust said that the child would be moving to a family-based centre -run by the Romanians, built with money from the 1990 Blue Peter Appeal and helped by professional imput from the trust - in preparation for adoption.

The trust approached the Romanian government about the future of Monica, who celebrates her first birthday in February, and it appears that the authorities jumped at their offer to take her into the Pro Familia Centre at Bacau.

Don McCready, chief executive of the trust, which has seen donations drop by one-third since the Mooneys were jailed in Romania for attempting to smuggle the baby out, said he hoped Monica would soon be seen as a symbol of progress and hope for the future rather than as a victim of a hopeless system in a hopeless country.

Responding to criticisms by the Mooneys - who he has described as well meaning but misguided - that Monica and thousands of children like her are languishing in appalling conditions while many foreign couples are anxious to adopt them, he admitted that many more family centres like the Pro Familia Centre at Bacau were needed to update Romania's antiquated system.

The centre can house just 90 children; Romania's spartan orphanages house 3,000 under three.

"In the orphanages the children become badly institutionalised and there is a real deficit in their emotional and physical development," Mr McCready said. "We have five-year-olds that look as if they are 18 months. We are asking Romania to progress very quickly."

He denied critics' claims that children are being sacrificed in the short-term in the pursuit of a long-term policy.

Mr McCready said attempts to trace Monica's parents and grandparents had failed. He insisted that there was no shortage of suitable couples willing to adopt her. A gypsy couple would be sought in an attempt to find a "racial match" for the baby with a family. She would only be put up for international adoption if her "notoriety" made her difficult to place at home, he said.

Last night, a spokeswoman for the Mooneys, of Wokingham, Berkshire, refused to discuss whether the family was still trying to adopt Monica but said they were very interested in her welfare and were keeping in touch with developments.

Yesterday Sergiu Celac, the Romanian ambassasor, met Douglas Hogg, the Foreign Office minister, to discuss complaints by the Mooneys over their treatment by the Romanian authorities.

The couple have returned home since their release.