The health minister John Hutton has declared it unacceptable that thousands of children are waiting for adoption while prospective parents are kept on hold.
Mr Hutton said yesterday that a hard core of local authorities in England were lagging behind good practice and the adoption system was in urgent need of reform. His comments came after the first national survey of services revealed that a pool of 1,297 approved adopters had no children placed with them while 2,400 youngsters were waiting for new homes.
The survey, carried out by the Social Services Inspectorate earlier this year, revealed that 39 out of 150 departments were not meeting the legal requirement to review their adoption arrangements every three years. It also found fewer than half the had target timescales for achieving adoption plans and the period prospective parents had to wait before assessment began varied enormously.
"More than 5,000 children who have adoption as part of their care plan are still waiting to be adopted. This isn't acceptable," Mr Hutton said. "Potential adopters can wait up to a year to begin the process to become a parent. Again, this is just not good enough. Whilst the report showed that there are pockets of good practice on adoption, there is obviously a hard core of local authorities who are still lagging behind."
Mr Hutton said a full report on adoption practice would be sent to Tony Blair by the end of May and this would inform the prime ministerial group which has been set up to review law and policy on the issue.
The Department of Health has also commissioned the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering (Baaf) to draw up a set of national standards which will be published for consultation next year.The Baaf's chief executive, Felicity Collier, said: "The UK working party will identify best practice and consult widely with everyone working in the field."
The Liberal Democrat health spokesman Nick Harvey said the figures showed "how badly the system is failing", but warned: "It would be over-simplistic to suggest that the large number of children waiting to be adopted could easily be joined with would-be parents."
Anne van Meeuwen, principal policy officer for the children's charity Barnardo's, agreed: "There may be a mismatch between the families who are approved and the children who are waiting. It might be that more of the families want younger children and that it is the older children who are having to wait." She added: "There won't be any simple solutions."
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