Letter: Put children at centre of adoption law

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Sir: John Major is a caring family man and it has to be assumed that his determination to introduce a radical reform of the adoption system ("Adoption law to curb political correctness", 28 December) is not a cynical piece of electioneering but rather has its origins in a briefing by proponents of "privatised" adoption in the United States.

Unfortunately the Prime Minister may be unaware of the complex and sensitive issues which need to be taken into account.

Those professionals engaged in child care, whether social workers, foster parents or lawyers, agree that all children need the security of a stable family life if they are to thrive. Everyone is horrified by the numbers of older children who live in residential homes before leaving care without that stability.

The new fashionable solution is to decree that all children who are taken into care shall be adopted if they are not returned home within, say, a year or 18 months. Because fewer adoptive placements than foster placements break down, it is argued that this will provide greater security. Inefficiency by local authorities in finding adoptive homes will be overcome by the use of private agencies.

This approach overlooks a number of important matters. It is not in the interests of all children in care to be legally, and in some cases psychologically, separated from their families. Not all children come into care because they have been rescued from abusive and uncaring parents. Many have loving families who are unable to look after them because of ill health or because of the demands of siblings. They may need to live apart from them but still remain part of the family.

While adoptive homes may have a lower rate of failure, it is important to compare like with like. A toddler or young child is less likely to be disturbed than an older child, and the greater the disturbance the more pressure is placed on the new family. More substitute families are needed but private agencies may not be the solution to finding them. Local authorities have been using private agencies for two decades.

This government has already given these problems detailed consideration for the last seven years. A review of adoption law was initiated in 1989, and a White Paper, "Adoption: The Future", was published in 1993. A Bill was published at the beginning of this year which places the interests of the individual child at the centre of all decisions which have to be made. Its measures have wide support.

If the Prime Minister genuinely wishes to help children in care - and I believe he does - he should ensure that time is made available now for legislation or commit his future government to introduce the Bill in the first session after the election.

JOHN MITCHELL

Family Law Chambers

London EC4

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