Hit squads 'must take over slow adoption services'

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The Independent Online

Hit squads should take over the adoption services of local authorities which drag their feet in finding new families for children in care, a group of MPs demanded last night.

Hit squads should take over the adoption services of local authorities which drag their feet in finding new families for children in care, a group of MPs demanded last night.

The parliamentary all-party group on adoption said the Department of Health should sent in teams of its own officials to speed up adoptions if councils with low success rates fail to improve their performance.

"The Government is sending hit squads into schools and hospitals - they should do the same for adoption services," the group said after its first meeting at Westminster last night. It also urged ministers to consider sending in charities, voluntary groups or privately run adoption services to councils deemed to be "failing" local children.

The group decided to "name and shame" the councils placing the lowest number of children from local authority homes with permanent new families. It published new figures showing that nine councils found adoptive families for less than 1 per cent of the children in their care in the 1998-99 financial year. Two authorities, Havering and Rutland, found families for no children in care.

The MPs argued there was no reason for the wide variation in the performance of different councils. Top of their league table was Sutton, which placed more than 13 per cent of its children in care with new families. The group agreed to campaign for tough legislation to reform the adoption laws to be introduced in the next parliamentary session starting in November.

"We want to take the politics out of adoption by putting the children first," said Julian Brazier, Tory MP for Canterbury, who was elected joint chairman of the new group with the Labour MP Llin Golding and Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten.

"Every day that a child stays in a local authority home is a day too long," Mr Brazier said. "We will be pressing for an explanation for the unacceptable variations across the country and monitoring the performance of councils closely. We want a radical shake-up of the laws, not a stop-gap measure."

The MPs have called for a national register of children seeking adoptive parents to be set up so they can be matched more easily with people willing to adopt - a move now being considered by the Government. They also say more children should be placed with foster parents as a temporary measure before they are found a permanent new home.

About 2,400 children are ready for adoption and 1,300 approved families waiting to be matched with a child. Council leaders admit performance is patchy but insist that adoptions cannot be rushed because a failed placement with a family can be more disruptive for a child than remaining in a home.

After a series of abuse scandals in council-run homes, Tony Blair promised action to speed up adoptions earlier this year and chairs a special ministerial group on the issue.

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