National register to match children with adoptive parents

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The Independent Online

The Government is to launch a national register to match children in need of new families with childless couples, it emerged last night.

The Government is to launch a national register to match children in need of new families with childless couples, it emerged last night.

The new register is designed to end the scandal of slow and inefficient procedures that leave thousands of children in care - despite the many couples desperate to have them. In some areas it can take as long as two years before a couple can gain approval to adopt.

It is hoped that the register will end the misery for many of the 2,400 children in England who are waiting for adoption- and for the 1,300 prospective parents who have been approved to adopt children.

Social service managers will meet Tony Blair at Downing Street this week, where they will be told to launch the service. The Prime Minister said: "The most important thing is that children are living in a loving family rather than a care home. We need a national register to co-ordinate all those wanting to adopt with all the available children and we need targets for local authorities."

Felicity Collier, the chief executive of the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, welcomed the move. "A national register could match up far more families with children," she said.

Intent on transforming the cumbersome process of adoption, the Government will warn local authority adoption services that they will be forced to yield their powers to "hit squads" if they fail.

The Government's desire for reform has been fuelled by the spate of child abuse cases in local authority care homes and mounting statistical evidence that children in care underperform educationally and are at greater risk of becoming criminals or drug abusers.

The parliamentary all-party group on adoption recommended last week that the Department of Health should send in teams of its own officials to speed up adoption if councils with low success rates fail to improve.

The group also "named and shamed" councils placing the lowest number of children with permanent new families. Nine councils found adoptive families for less than 1 per cent of the children in their care last year. Two authorities, Havering and Rutland, found families for no children in care.

John Hutton, the Health minister, recently criticised "a hard core" of social workers who were failing to process adoption applications quickly enough. Ministers have made clear they feel some local authorities are too "politically correct" in turning down prospective adopters because of their lifestyles and that some social workers consider adoption to be a "last resort".

Of the children waiting to be adopted, 6 per cent were from ethnic minority backgrounds and 11 per cent were of dual race heritage. Of prospective adopters approved last year, 10 per cent were from ethnic minority groups.