Thousands wait for adoption

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John Hutton, a health minister, has called for a shake-up of England's adoption system as a new report shows there are 2,400 children still waiting to be given a new family.

Initial findings from the first national survey into adoption services found wide variations in waiting times across the country, with some approved couples waiting more than a year to get children. The survey, by the Social Services Inspectorate, found that a pool of 1,297 approved adopters had no children placed with them.

The Prime Minister promised earlier this year to make it easier for couples to adopt, and an all-party committee of MPs threatened last month to "out" councils with poor records.

The latest report reveals that many local authorities are still not meeting their legal obligations. Thirty-nine social services departments fail to review their adoption arrangements every three years, as the law requires. And less than half the social services departments had target timescales for achieving adoption plans.

Of the children waiting to be adopted, 6 per cent were from black and ethnic minority backgrounds and 11 per cent were of dual race heritage. Almost 2,500 adopters were approved in the year ending in March 1999, 10 per cent of them from black and ethnic minorities.

Mr Hutton said he believed up to 5,000 children may need adoption. "This isn't acceptable," he said. "In other parts of the country, potential adopters can wait up to a year to begin the process to become a parent. Again, this is just not good enough.

"While the report showed that there are pockets of good practice on adoption, there is obviously a hardcore of local authorities which are still lagging behind."

Mr Hutton said a full report on adoption practice would be sent to the prime ministerial group which has been set up to review adoption law and policy.

The Department of Health has also commissioned the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering to draw up a set of national standards which will be published for consultation next year.

The standards would apply to social workers and other professionals working in adoption, foster care and child care.

Mike Taylor, the NSPCC's director of childcare, said: "Adoption is not the only way to meet the complex needs of children in care and it does not address the pressing responsibility on government to make residential and foster care safe for all children."