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Last Updated: Friday, 26 January 2007, 17:44 GMT
Babies 'removed to meet targets'
By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

Toddler
The government insists it is protecting children
Babies are being removed from their parents so that councils can meet adoption targets, MPs have claimed.

The MPs fear a rise in the number of young children being taken into care in England and Wales is linked to pressure on councils to increase adoption rates.

Lib Dem MP John Hemming, who has tabled a Commons motion on the issue, said it was a "national scandal".

The government said the courts decided on care cases but there had to be evidence a child was being harmed.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said there were "no targets relating to the numbers of children coming into care".

But Mr Hemming argued that social services departments are under pressure to meet targets set by government on children in care being adopted.

The decision to bring a child into care must be made on the basis of their best interests
Department for Education

In an Early Day Motion, with cross-party support from 12 MPs, he warns of "increasing numbers of babies being taken into care, not for the safety of the infant, but because they are easy to get adopted".

In 2000, ministers set a target of a 50% increase in the number of children in local authority being adopted by March 2006.

According to the latest available figures, the number of "looked after" children being adopted had gone up from 2,700 in 2000 to 3,700 in 2004, an increase of 37.7%.

The biggest rise was in the one to four-year-old age range.

'Scandal'

These figures would be "laudable" if it meant children were being rescued from a life in care, said Mr Hemming.

But he said he had evidence from people who had contacted him, prevented from publication by contempt of court laws, that children were being separated from parents without proper grounds.

And he called on the government to reveal "how many of the children that are adopted would otherwise have remained with their birth parents".

Mr Hemming pointed to figures showing an increase in the number of children aged under one being taken into care.

"A thousand kids a year are being taken off their birth parents just to satisfy targets. It is a national scandal," said the Lib Dem MP.

Transparency

He said children were increasingly placed under "care orders" - where they remain with their birth parents but are kept under supervision by social workers - rather than with foster parents.

And this supervision meant some social workers were "gradually taking them away from the parents, step by step, and giving them to someone else," the Birmingham Yardley MP said.

He called for more transparency in the proceedings of Family Courts and an independent watchdog to scrutinise the work of social services departments.

In a statement, the Department for Education said: "The law is clear - children should live with their parents wherever possible and, when necessary, families should be given extra support to help keep them together.

"The decision to take a child into care is never an easy one, and it is a decision that is taken by the courts."

'Best interests'

The statement went on: "In every case where a child is taken into care on a care order, the courts will have considered the evidence and taken the view that the child has been significantly harmed, or would be if they were not taken into care.

"The final decision on adoption rests with the courts and before a court makes such an important decision it must be convinced on the basis of the evidence that this is the best way to meet the child's needs on a long-term basis.

"There are no government targets relating to the numbers of children coming into care. The decision to bring a child into care must be made on the basis of their best interests."

The British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) said it was "dangerous" to suggest children were being taken into care unnecessarily.

Chief executive David Holmes said: "Children come into care for many reasons including parental abuse and neglect. The rise in the numbers of young children coming into care may be explained by a variety of factors including a rise in parental substance misuse."

He pointed out that the decision to take a child into care was scrutinised by an independent children's guardian and the courts. Adoption is scrutinised by the guardian, the courts and an adoption panel.

Mr Holmes added: "If birth parents believe they have had their child taken into care unfairly, they should lodge a formal complaint with their local authority. I believe that this is rare. I certainly do not believe children are systematically being taken into care to meet adoption targets."

Adoption targets were brought in to prevent children in care from waiting months or even years before finding an adoptive family.


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