Bickering over cash delays adoptions

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The Independent Online

Thousands of children are languishing in council care and foster homes because local authorities are blocking attempts to place them with adoptive parents.

Thousands of children are languishing in council care and foster homes because local authorities are blocking attempts to place them with adoptive parents.

An investigation by the Independent on Sunday has discovered that councils are ignoring repeated requests from the Prime Minister to do all they can to find homes for children.

It costs thousands of pounds to recruit prospective parents and the local authorities are keen to protect their "investments". If the couple adopts a child from another area, then that investment is lost.

As a result, 1,300 suitable parents are still waiting for children, despite a queue of 2,400 youngsters ready to be placed with a family.

Felicity Collier, chief executive of the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, said: "Some local authorities are refusing to pass would-be adopters on to other authorities even when there are no suitable children in their area and there are lots of children waiting for adoption elsewhere.

"They say they have invested local taxpayers' money in finding, vetting and supporting suitable adopters and therefore this investment should benefit children from their area.

"We understand this cost implication but do not feel that in a country where there are thousands of children awaiting adoption, it is ever acceptable that they should have to wait when there are parents available elsewhere."

New life peer Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen has personal experience of the problem. She said: "A member of my family and her husband have recently been approved as adoptive parents by Essex County Council but have not yet had a child placed with them.

"The couple was surprised to learn that they wouldn't be considered for children awaiting adoption in neighbouring Suffolk or Norfolk, for example, because their loyalties are expected to remain with children in their own area.

"They were even referred to as 'resources of Essex' which was a little heartbreaking when what they really are is two adults wanting to adopt a child, wherever he or she comes from."

Tony Sharpe, county adoption manager for Essex, confirmed that it is council policy to try to retain prospective parents for their own county. "We certainly have a policy of expecting adopters to retain availability for Essex for a given amount of time," he said, "even if there isn't a child immediately available for them.

"It is the money raised by our council taxpayers that funds the process of recruiting them in the first place, so it is not unreasonable for us to want that investment to benefit children in our area."

Mr Sharpe added that it is normally only after two years that they would consider passing a couple's details to another authority if a suitable child had not been found.

Similar policies are found at local authorities all over the country. "There's not a lot of point going through the long and expensive procedure of finding prospective parents only to pass them on to other authorities, even if we do get financial compensation," explained a spokesperson for Hampshire County Council, which asks parents to stay loyal to them for at least a year.

Patricia Oni, manager of BAAF's Be My Parent magazine, which features children from all over the country looking for adoptive families, said: "In the past year, I have had a significant number of people cancelling their subscription to the magazine because their local authorities have told them not to consider adopting children outside their own area. This has come as a real surprise to many of them."

David Davis, chairman of the Conservative Party Commission on adoption and fostering, said: "This is a ridiculous policy that loses sight of the whole aim of adoption which is to find youngsters homes as quickly as possible. The longer they are in care, the more damaged they become. It is selfish, short-sighted and perverse.

"What we need is a national register of adoptive parents who can be matched up with a child anywhere in the country and not just if they happen to live in the same local authority. This would also create a national set of standards for adoptive parents which puts the interests of children first and would encourage a lot more people to put themselves forward as adoptive parents.

"At the moment a lot of people are put off from applying to their local authority for fear of being rejected on any number of silly grounds."