Education & Family

Adoption: David Cameron vows to cut adoption delays

The prime minister has vowed to tackle "absurd barriers to mixed-race adoption" which he says trap many children in care.

David Cameron said speed - not ethnicity - should be the key factor in getting children in to loving homes.

He was speaking in west London, ahead of the launch of the government's "Adoption Action Plan".

Local authorities in England are being told not to delay adoptions "in a search for the perfect ethnic match".

White children are three times more likely to leave care through adoption than those from ethnic minorities, the government says.

Of the 65,000 children in care in England at the end of March last year, about 50,000 were white.

Fewer people from ethnic minority backgrounds come forward to adopt.

The latest government figures suggest there are 6,770 children in England who have been identified for adoption in but have not been adopted.

In a speech at a children's centre in West London, the prime minister said he would keep coming back to the issue of speeding up adoptions, which he has made a government priority.

"This is not a prime ministerial flash in the pan," he said.

Mr Cameron said he knew adoption "was not right for everybody", but he wanted to see more children getting "the chance of growing up in a loving home and getting the care they need".

"I want to make sure that speed is the key factor in trying to get children adopted and we should not let issues like trying to find the perfect ethnic match be a factor," he said.

The government has announced three changes which it says will speed up the system:

  • Local authorities will be required to reduce delays and not delay adoptions "for the perfect match"
  • Legal changes to make it easier for children to be fostered by people approved for adoption so that a child might be fostered by someone who goes on to adopt them
  • If an adoptive match is not found locally in three months, local authorities will have to put the child on the national adoption register

Becky, from the English Midlands, recently adopted two young children with her same-sex partner.

They first saw them in a magazine called Children Who Wait, which features children in need of new families, produced by the charity Adoption UK.

Becky says a child might have greater needs than those related to their ethnic background.

"Our children are second generation mixed-race and originally social workers were looking to place them with their other siblings and their ethnicity would have further complicated that," she told the BBC News website.

"I think their social worker did a good job in prioritising their needs. Sometimes, professionals can see ethnicity as a more important match than it should be.

"Some of the cases we heard about, we felt sure that the children had other needs that had to be met - such as a disability. What a child needs is a stable home."

Comedian Joy Carter, who was adopted in Nigeria by white parents, says it is vital to give a child a permanent loving home as early as possible.

She says she grew up in a white community and found some aspects of her childhood difficult and was bullied "because of the ignorance of others".

But the longer a child is left, she says, the more likely they are to suffer psychological harm - and that will make it even harder to adopt them.

"The sooner you're in a place where you can be nurtured and have hope and have love, the better. And what people don't really understand is that this is a very difficult situation for any child anyway, so having that stability, having that hope, is really important. That far outweighs all the grown-up issues hands down."

The government's adviser on adoption, Martin Narey, said black children waited "scandalous periods of time" before being adopted because of the search for an ethnic match.

"Race does matter but nowhere near as much as the system suggests at the moment," he said.

"I have met, for example, a foster carer, white mother of a black child - clearly a good match - child loved the mother, and that woman had to suffer for nearly two years while her local authority tried to find black parents for a child who was happy and contented. We can't allow that to continue."

Matt Dunkley, the president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said race was important, as it was central to identity.

"When we balance the needs of the child and their sense of their own identity linked to their race and we look to speed it up and the options of white parents, we need to be careful in the social work we do around that to make sure it is the right thing for that child," he said.

"What I wouldn't want is for anyone to have the idea that issues around a child's identity and their ethnic background in particular are straightforward and can be solved simply by adoption outside their own race."

The Local Government Association, which represents councils across England and Wales, called on the government "to scrap reams of unnecessary paperwork" related to adoption.

David Holmes, from the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, said while decisions needed to be made quickly, they had to be right for the children.

"These are decisions that will reverberate for the rest of the child's life. And we need to make sure that when we find families for children, they're families that are going to last. But no single issue - ethnicity, anything else - should stop a match which would otherwise meet the child's assessed needs."

A fifth of adoptions currently break down, reports suggest, while children wait an average of two years and seven months to be adopted.

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