By Matthew Barrett
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There is good news for adoption campaigners in this morning's Times (£) - David Cameron and Education Ministers will legislate for babies who are taken into care to be looked after by the families that hope to adopt them, in order to reduce disruption in their lives. Mr Cameron told the Times – who have campaigned for reform of the care system for younger children - that this will become "standard practice" for the 3,660 infants under one year old currently in the care system.
"These new plans will see babies placed with approved adopters who will foster first, and help provide a stable home at a much earlier stage in a child’s life … This way, we’re trying our very best to avoid the disruption that can be so damaging to a child’s development and so detrimental to their future wellbeing. I’m determined that we act now to give these children the very best start in life. These babies deserve what every child deserves: a permanent, secure and happy home environment to grow up in."
The Children and Families Bill – which, as well as reforms to the adoption system, is designed to overhaul the special educational needs system and reduce delays in the family justice system – is scheduled for this session of Parliament, and will place a new legal duty on local authorities to consider "fostering to adopt" as an option for all children under one coming into the care system in that authority.
This new announcement joins other measures to speed up the adoption process, including the Department for Education's "adoption scorecards" which show councils how they are performing compared with neighbouring areas. The Bill also provides for the process for recruiting adoptive families to be speeded up and made more relevant to vulnerable children, and it removes a mystifying hangover from the Labour years – the reluctance of local authorities to let children of one ethnic group be adopted by parents of another.
The changes are made necessary by the fact that a record low number of children – 3,050 – were adopted from the care system in the year to March 2011, despite many more children coming into care. Martin Narey, who wrote a report on the problems with the adoption system, and is now the Government's adoption adivsor, welcomed David Cameron's words:
"I know from my extensive contact with adopters the importance they put on establishing a permanent bond with their child as soon as possible… they’re prepared to take the risk that the adoption will not proceed, because they know how important early stability is to a neglected child. This development is great news for adopters and even better news for neglected and abused children."