Thursday, October 7, 1999 Published at 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Targets set to speed adoption
Many children taken into care are under 10 years old
Vulnerable children will spend less time waiting to be adopted under new targets announced by the government.
The Objectives for Children's Social Services framework, published on Thursday, set local authorities clear targets to improve the safety and wellbeing of children in care.
There has been wide consultation on the objectives which are part of the government's £375m Quality Protects shake-up of services for children in care.
They come as government figures reveal the number of children being looked after rose to 55,300 - up 4% on 1998 and 11% on 1995.
Forty-four per cent were under 10 years old.
In some 34,100 of these cases - 2,000 more than the previous year, local authorities were forced to go to court to obtain a care order to protect the child.
At the same time, the number looked after under voluntary agreements fell.
Part of the reason for the rise was that fewer children left care in 1998/99 than the previous year.
Many of the children had gone in and out of care, with 40% spending fewer than eight weeks in care in their previous placement.
The number of children being taken into care for the first time was down by 5%.
The figures also show that 65% of children in care were placed with foster parents - a similar proportion to the year before.
The government wants to cut the number of children who spend much of their lives going in and out of care and make it easier for children to be adopted.
Its framework for the first time sets out targets aimed at minimising the time children can remain looked after before they are placed for adoption.
It also calls for:
Health minister John Hutton said the government was committed to seeing "radical improvements" in children's social services.
"We need to continue the drive to improve services for these children," he said.
"All children deserve the best chances in life, but we have a particular duty to this highly vulnerable group."
Felicity Collier of the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering said: "We welcome clarity about the improvements needed to ensure the very best possible opportunities for children in care to have happy and fulfilled lives."
She added that delays in the adoption procedure made it more difficult for children to settle with their new families.
But she stated that one of the main problems facing adoption agencies was a shortage of suitable adoptive families, particularly for older children, ethnic minority children and groups of brothers and sisters.
"Next week is National Adoption Week and it is vitally important that more families come forward," said Ms Collier.
The Who Cares? Trust, a charity for children in care, also welcomed the targets which it said showed "a continuing commitment" to improviding standards for children in care.
It is particularly interested in the education element and is launching its own project next week aimed at improving literacy among vulnerable children.
A previous project showed that providing children in care with book vouchers and support in reading helped greatly improve their literacy.
"This can affect their future life chances," said a spokeswoman.
"Children in families often get more help to read and more attention than those in care homes or foster care."
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