Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Published at 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Government outlines adoption targets
The government plans to improve adoption services
The government is to set maximum time limits between children's entry into care and their adoption as part of a multi-million pound plan to improve adoption services.
Junior health minister John Hutton told the House of Commons on Wednesday the targets would be one of a set of indicators which would help to measure adoption services, develop national standards and increase the use of adoption by councils.
The targets will be monitored by the Social Services Inspectorate and the Audit Commission and councils will be inspected and regulated by commissions of care.
The government is worried that some councils are opposed to adoption for ideological reasons, rather than practical ones.
Mr Hutton said: "We will not hesitate to take the necessary action in the future to ensure that looked-after children do not become the innocent victims of misplaced theory or ideology. Poor performance will not be tolerated."
But social services directors say they are not being unfairly blamed for delays.
The indicators will measure the percentage of looked-after children being adopted each year, the average time children are looked after before being placed for adoption and the breakdown of adoption placements.
Under local government Best Value legislation, Health Secretary Frank Dobson will have powers to intervene if councils do not come up to scratch.
There is speculation that this may include failing adoption services being taken over by other local authorities.
Some £30m of the money has already been allocated to improving placements, including adoption, for children in care for 1999/2000.
Mr Hutton's statement is the first time the government has given any sign of what the adoption service performance indicators will be, but adoption experts said the announcement fell short on detail.
They speculated that Mr Hutton was testing the response to the proposal.
Moira Gibb, vice president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, said she recognised that delays needed to be reduced and looked forward to working with the government.
But she added that it was not just social services which was to blame.
Some cases got caught up in the court system and there was a shortage of adopters for children who had been in care.
"Unfortunately, a great deal of the debate gets mixed up between the small number of babies up for adoption and children in care whom social services often struggle to find families for," she said.
Felicity Collier of the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering said:
"I am not convinced that arbitrary time limits will safeguard the interests of all children."
She said each case had to be judged on its merits.
However, Conservative MPs such as Julian Brazier welcomed the government's announcement.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health admitted the targets were still being developed.
She said: "Not all children are suitable for adoption for one reason or another. It may not be appropriate to have a single indicator as each case has to be taken on an individual basis."
She added that the maximum time limit could relate to the period between a child being assessed and found suitable for adoption and being placed with an adopter rather than entry into care and adoption.
Children in care
Some 50,000 British children are currently in care, with about 2,000 being adopted and 43,000 being in foster care.
The BAAF says 75% of fostered children will eventually be reunited with their birth parents - a move which is supported by government legislation.
It estimates that there are 10,000 children a year who are waiting for adoption.
A spokeswoman agreed with the ADSS that some problems were outside social services' control, but she said there were concerns that some social workers were too bent on reuniting children with their birth parents in the face of evidence that this was not working.
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