Time to change the adoption laws
EVERY child deserves the love of a stable family – that is why we've made sorting out and speeding up adoption in this country a priority.
There is no more urgent task for government than this. Young lives are being wasted while the process takes its toll – and the victims are some of the most vulnerable young people in our society. We can no longer put children's futures on hold while the system gets round to dealing with their case.
That is why we must tear down the barriers that stop good, caring potential adoptive parents from giving a home to children who so desperately need one.
Why now? On September 28, 2011, statistics published by the Department for Education showed that the number of children who were adopted in 2010-11 fell to a 10-year low. We also learnt that just 60 babies were adopted out of more than 3,600 in care and that on average there was a one year and eight month wait before moving in with adoptive parents – but that if you were a black child you had to wait almost a year longer to be adopted.
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It has prompted the Prime Minister to propose changes to legislation to ensure that, when adoption is in a child's best interests, they are placed in loving homes as soon as possible.
So what will this new approach involve? To start with, we want to stop local authorities from delaying adoption on grounds of ethnicity. Local authorities will be required to reduce delays in all cases and will not be able to delay an adoption for the 'perfect match' if there are other suitable adopters available.
Proposed changes to legislation will also make it easier for children to be fostered by approved prospective adopters while the courts consider the case for adoption.
Moving children onto the national Adoption Register if no match is found locally within three months will also be a change. This will give children a wider pool of prospective adopters.
There will be transparent information on local authority performance. On October 31, 2011, for the first time, we published performance tables showing local authorities' performance in looking after children in their care. They show how each local authority is performing against 15 key indicators, such as educational attainment, placement stability, and the proportion of children in care who are adopted and the timeliness of the adoption process. We want people to be able to challenge councils that are letting down the children in their care and we want to help the worst councils learn from the best.
As an extra safeguard we will be intervening where local authorities are failing. And we aim to reduce delays in the family justice system by introducing time limits of six months.
There will be a new Adopter's Charter, which sets out clear principles on how prospective adopters should be treated. And there will be new guidance for local authorities to encourage more adoptions such as working with the voluntary sector to place children in homes.
Some have said our approach shows a lack of sensitivity towards children's racial and cultural backgrounds. No. For too long, politically correct attitudes have meant that children from black and Asian backgrounds are denied the chance of a new family even though there are many potential adoptive parents who are desperate to step in.
As for the idea that fast-track adoption means more risk to young and vulnerable children. Absolutely not.
What we are doing is ensuring that children don't have to wait so long before they can live with potential adoptive parents.