Secure families a priority for children living in care

The Queen's Speech: Adoption
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Indy Politics

The long-awaited Adoption and Children Bill aims to reduce the number of children who grow up in institutional care by placing many more of them in secure, loving homes.

The long-awaited Adoption and Children Bill aims to reduce the number of children who grow up in institutional care by placing many more of them in secure, loving homes.

Parents will be given more support when adopting "looked-after" children, the lengthy process of adoption will be speeded up and couples turned down by local councils will have a right of appeal.

Campaigners say the Bill will tacakle intransigent attitudes among social workers, which have helped to consign thousands of children to lives in care.

The Bill, which replaces the outdated 1976 Adoption Act, will overhaul the legal framework for adoption and make the child's needs the paramount concern in all decisions.

Felicity Collier, chief executive of British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, said the Bill was a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to reform the law.

"One of the most important outcomes for the Adoption and Children Bill is restoring public confidence in adoption, so that more people will come forward to adopt the many children who are waiting for secure and permanent homes."

More than 5,000 of the 52,000 children in care are currently waiting for adoptive families. Some children have to wait years before they are placed. Even after being placed, it usually takes another 14 months to complete the legal procedures.

The Bill, which follows a White Paper last July, aims to increase the number of looked-after children adopted by 40 per cent, and if possible 50 per cent.

To encourage more people to adopt looked-after children, who are often troubled and challenging, councils will have to provide post-adoption support services. They will also be obliged to assess all prospective adoptive parents. Those who feel they are unfairly rejected will get the chance of an independent review.

To reduce delays, a National Adoption Register will help match children with would-be parents across all the agencies in England and Wales. Courts will also have to draw up timetables to ensure adoption cases are dealt with swiftly.

International adoption will be subject to stronger legal controls, which will cover checks on prospective adopters and the advertising of foreign children for adoption, including over the internet.

Tony Blair has been determined to increase the number of children in care placed for adoption since the harrowing report on abuse at children's homes in North Wales.

Adoption experts say that, in the past, social workers have put up too many obstacles, arguing that older children are too damaged for adoptive parents to cope with, that siblings in care should not be split up, or failing to recognise the harm done by repeated unsuccessful attempts to return children to neglectful or abusive natural parents.

The failure of the system has seen young children shunted between foster care and residential homes. It is not uncommon for a child to be moved 20 to 30 times and some children are moved 50 or 60 times before they reach 16.

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