Faster adoptions are 'no flash in the pan' says David Cameron


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Indy Politics

David Cameron said today that his plans to create a faster adoption process are not "a Prime Ministerial flash in the pan".

Addressing a group of parents who have adopted children or begun the adoption process, the Prime Minister said the priority was to give youngsters the chance to grow up in a loving home, regardless of their ethnicity.

He said: "I promise this isn't a Prime Ministerial flash in the pan - I've made this an issue and I'm going to keep coming back to it."

Speaking at South Acton Children's Centre in south west London, Mr Cameron said: "I was at an adoption centre in October, I'm back here now in March and, as Arnold Schwarznegger said, 'I'll be back' because I really want to keep chasing this issue and make sure we do all the things necessary, including primary legislation.

"I want to make sure speed and getting things done quickly is what matters, rather than ethnicity and other issues."

He added: "The Government is making some good progress. We are setting out some new plans next week and today we are talking about three things that I think will make a difference.

"One is to make sure that speed is the key factor in trying to get children adopted.

"We shouldn't let an issue like trying to find the absolutely perfect ethnic mix to be a factor. In my view we should make clear ethnicity shouldn't be a factor, it's about finding loving parents.

"Where there are delays, it's worth thinking about their name being on the national register.

"The third thing is this issue of concurrency and making sure where you have really excellent foster carers who want to be the adoptive parents they can do both at the same time.

"I see this as part of a long process. I know how hugely complicated it is to make sure children in care get a good start in life. I know adoption isn't right for everybody, but I think we haven't given enough attention to getting adoptions done quickly in Britain and I'm determined we do better."

During the visit, Mr Cameron met two fathers who have both adopted children.

He chatted to Greg Edwards and his seven-year-old son Daniel Easton about the three-year process it took for them to become a family.

Mr Edwards told the Prime Minister: "Anything that makes the system work faster I'm a big fan of because all the delays were not from us but from the system. Daniel had been identified but it took a long time for the courts to approve for him to be placed with us."

He also spoke to Shegun Olysanya about what he and his partner endured when they were adopting.

Full details of the shake-up are due to be published next week by Education Secretary Michael Gove - who last month criticised "misguided" efforts to insist on same-race matches.

Despite guidance issued last year, some local authorities were still putting their belief in finding "a perfect match" ahead of the children's interests, Mr Gove, himself adopted, said.

But although the Government said it would introduce the changes "as soon as possible", officials would give no commitment to the changes being made before 2015.

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 says a child's welfare should always be the "paramount consideration" but requires "due consideration to the child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background".

Revised statutory guidance was issued last year in a bid to reduce delays faced by ethnic minority children but ministers believe it has failed to have a big enough impact.

"Now we will go further and will bring forward primary legislation at the next available opportunity. We want to make it clearer that ethnic matching should not automatically be an overriding consideration in the matching process," a Number 10 spokeswoman said.

Secondary legislation is expected to be used to make it easier for children to be placed with foster carers who are also approved adopters - and who can take them in permanently.

While the fostering and adoption processes would remain separate, Number 10 said, enabling the sort of cross-over employed by some areas should reduce disruption for youngsters.

Martin Narey, the Government's adviser on adoption who previously headed children's charity Barnardo's, said he was "delighted at the urgency" being shown by ministers.

"The announcement today will secure the earlier and more successful adoption of many thousands of children whose lives will be transformed.

"Local authorities will be asked to make concurrent planning more widespread so that children are fostered by their prospective adoptive parents as long as it is in the child's best interests."

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: "We need to change legislation to make sure that reducing delay is the primary concern of social workers and adoption managers across the country. A year is such a significant proportion of a young child's life. We can't afford to waste time."

The moves were welcomed by the NSPCC but it warned against making speed the prime focus.

Chief executive officer Andrew Flanagan said: "The Prime Minister is right to address the impact that delays within the care system can have on children but this work must be driven by their best interests, not timescales.

"The most important outcome for any child is to have a safe, secure and loving home environment, whether that is through fostering, adoption or being reunited with their birth family or other permanent option."

He also noted that adoption accounted for only a small minority of cases and called for urgent attention to the risk of children being abused after being returned from care to birth families.

"We hope the Government's broader children in care strategy due in the summer will set out how improvements will be made across the care system."