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Letter: Put children at centre of adoption law

Sir: There are indeed 55,000 children in local authority care. However, over 40,000 of these children are already placed in substitute families with varying levels of support from local authorities. The remaining 15,000 are in residential care and 90 per cent of these are adolescents.

The vast majority of these young people are in residential care because attempts to place them in substitute families have failed - so great has been the initial damage that they have suffered at the hands of their original families.

To your great credit, you have been highlighting the efforts being made to track down the victims of abuse in residential care in the Seventies and Eighties, but no one seems to be prepared to ask why it happened and continues to happen.

A glance at Sir William Utting's 1991 report "Children in Public Care" provides the answer. He reviewed residential staff's abilities and called them "deplorable".

In the two children's homes I worked in this summer, only one of the 19 staff had a qualification.

The system of promotion is based entirely on time-serving.

Add to this "privatised care" and the simple fact that within the new dispensation these unqualified people can set up their own children's homes, and you have a situation which in any other field of social policy would be regarded as intolerable.

So why do we tolerate it? Well, firstly the "clients" are children who have no voice.

Secondly - money. To recruit and train staff for this difficult and demanding work so that at least 50 per cent have reached degree level would cost millions, money that no government is prepared to spend.

Yet curiously we are prepared to pick up the social cost once these young people leave care; 15,000 of our prison population have been in care, exactly the same number currently languishing there.


School of Social Work,

Kingston University

Kingston Hill, Surrey