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A Bill to compel local authorities to publish annual statistics about children in care and adoptions, and the intro...
A Bill to compel local authorities to publish annual statistics about children in care and adoptions, and the introduction by government of annual league tables of local authorities was given an unopposed First Reading in the Commons yesterday.

The private member's Bill, introduced with all-party support by Julian Brazier, Conservative MP for Cantebury, would require councils to publish annual totals of children in care, numbers of children adopted and numbers of parents available to undertake adoptions. They would also have to provide the Secretary of State annually with a list of children in care, together with the length of time each child has been in care. The government would be reuired to publish league tables based upon this information.

Mr Brazier said children leaving care were 50 times more likely to end up in adult prison than other children. Girls in care had a one-in-four chance of being pregnant at some point during their so-called care. The rate of abuse of boys was about the same.

'Children from care who are adopted do much better not only than those who remain in care but than those returned from care to their natural parents. Incredibly, children adopted from care, including badly damaged children, outperform even those who remain with certain categories of family', he added.

Mr Brazier said only 6,000 were adopted in 1995, compared with 22,000 a generation ago.Last year less than 2,000 children were adopted from care out of more than 50,000 currently in care. Yet there were many families who would love to give those children a caring home. By ensuring the compilation of standardised statistic, the Bill would expose those local authorities that are holding children back from adoption for ideological reasons.

Last year 50 local authorities had 10 or fewer children adopted from care and a few had none adopted.

Hilton Dawson, Labour MP for Lancaster and Wyre, was the lone voice against the Bill. He said he wanted to improve and develop adoption services, but did not think the measure was the proper way to achieve that.

Mr Dawson, who said ideology and political correctness was not prevalent in social services departments, commented:'One of my worries about the Bill arises from the fact that adoption is not the only proper way of looking after children in care - or necessrily the best way. The majority of children who are looked after in care are returned home - many very successfully. Some children remain quite appropriately in long-term foster care and some remain quite appropriately in long-term residential care.

'As has been said, it seems that, under the Bill, local authorities could be criticised for not having children adopted, even when a good assessment, a well worked care plan and the wishes and feelings of the children indicate some other solution'.

Although local authorities should be accountable, league tables were wholly inapproriate for a complex, subtle, highly professional process, carefully assessing the individual child, balancing the needs of siblings, trying to keep families together and, above all, trying to look into the future and work out how things will develop.

Mr Dawson said national standards were needed for adoption services, with performance indicators and ethnic monitoring of children in care and the adoption opportunities available to them. There should be a national register of prospective adopters so people in one part of the country need not wait for ages when children from another part might properly be placed with them and paid adoption leave for adoptive parents and adoption allowances, so that couples who are fostering children successfully are not financially penalised if they make the greater commitment to adopt them.

The Bill will receive its Second Reading today.

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