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Forced adoption claims dismissed

2 February 08 09:29 GMT

The Children's Minister Kevin Brennan has denied claims that young children are being taken into care by local authorities to meet adoption targets.

Mr Brennan has written to two national newspapers to say there has never been any financial incentive for councils to meet national adoption targets.

The claims surfaced over the case of a baby in Nottingham placed into care just hours after being born.

Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming has accused the council of baby-stealing.

No financial incentive

In a letter to The Times and The Daily Mail, Mr Brennan says there were national adoption targets designed to place more children in care into loving, family homes.

But, he writes, "they ended in 2006; and there was never a financial incentive for local authorities to meet these national targets".

Mr Hemming told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that, "there remain differential funding streams, so effectively the local authority are put under pressure to drive things towards adoption."

He is backing the Nottingham mum in her legal fight to be reunited with her baby.

On Friday, a judge ruled that the baby boy must stay in foster care until the teenager's health can be assessed. Social services are questioning her mental fitness.

A day earlier, the High Court ordered the baby be returned to his mother, saying the council had acted unlawfully in removing her.

Time to bond

The BBC's social affairs correspondent Sue Littlemore says anonymous legal judgments in most adoption cases are fuelling the confusion.

She says that for the sake of the child, the reasoning is kept private, which means harnessing public support and understanding will always be difficult.

Nationwide, directors of children's services say that far from growing, adoption is in fact a minority activity.

Officially, numbers have stayed around 3,500 a year since 2001 and in the last three years, they have fallen.

The head of the British Association of Social Workers, Ian Johnston, told the BBC that social workers face a very difficult task in weighing up the rights of the child and the needs of parents.

"If a child is not going to be able to be looked after by their natural parents, the sooner a long-term substitute arrangement is made the better," he went on.

"Children do better if they're in adoptive care than in long-term local authority care".

But Sarah Harman, a family solicitor who specialises in adoption cases, said: "It's very rarely necessary to remove babies from mothers because they are most often in hospital and a hospital can be made a secure environment. The child can be put in a nursery and the mother can have supervised contact."

She added: "It is right that if a parent is not going to be able to care for a need to make those assessments sooner rather than later. But you don't need to make them before the child has had time to bond with the mother".

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