National register to find homes for 'trapped' children

Health minister pledges new families for 1,000 more waiting youngsters a year
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An extra 1,000 children will find new adoptive homes each year in an attempt to cut down the number "trapped" in the care system, the Health minister John Hutton promised yesterday. He told a Downing Street summit that a shake-up of the system should include a new national database as well as the clarification of requirements for prospective parents.

Around 5,000 children are waiting to be matched with couples, and hundreds of hopeful parents find themselves frustrated by the complex procedures.

"We can't go on as we are. The present system is failing too many children," Mr Hutton said. "We need to make the system better, more efficient and more effective, and end the drift that many children experience when they get into care and get them into loving and secure families."

Yesterday, adoption agencies welcomed new laws which would make the process easier and remained "hopeful" that extra cash would be forthcoming for post-adoptive support.

Felicity Collier, chief executive of the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, said: "Everybody recognises that adoption - especially of vulnerable, disabled or disturbed children - is not a cheap option. I did gather that new resources are under consideration and I am very pleased."

Mr Hutton, who chaired the Downing Street meeting of social services professionals, adoption agencies and children's charities, said there was a clear need for national standards. Councils apply their own criteria when deciding who may adopt, some rejecting parents because of age, different racial background to the child or even because they smoke or are overweight.

One proposal is the creation of a national register of children seeking adoption and hopeful couples, to end the situation where couples approved for adoption are forced to apply to different local authorities.

Margie Rooke, head of children and family services at Kingston, London, has three approved children and a similar number of prospective parents. It also has 30 couples interested in adopting but only four children waiting to be approved. Couples go through approximately nine months of checks. Kingston also allows adoption by single parents, who often take on the more problematic children.

"There are stories I have heard where authorities have declared that a couple are not race-aware enough," Ms Rooke said. "That is a judgement being made and it is not right. We don't have an age policy. If someone is older we might suggest an older child. We had an older couple who wanted to take two children. She didn't work and he was on a low wage. We felt it was right to give them adoption allowances so he did not have to work overtime and the children would have both parents there, on the weekends at least."

One in six couples in Britain have problems conceiving yet the numbers of children adopted have plummeted. Thirty years ago 20,300 children were adopted; by 1999 the number had dropped to one-quarter of that.