Council hands adoption cases to child charity

By David Harrison, Sunday Telegraph

Last Updated: 1:17am GMT 19/02/2007




A local authority in London is to hand over its adoption services to a voluntary agency to cut lengthy delays in finding homes for children in care.


The agreement between Harrow borough council in north-west London and Coram Family, a leading children's charity, is the first of its kind in the UK.


It bucks the recent and much-criticised trend for financially-pressed councils to try to place children with families through their own or other local authority's in-house adoption services.


advertisementLast night David Holmes, the chief executive of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, welcomed the "innovative" scheme and said it could be a model for other local authorities "wherever it is in the best interest of the children".


Critics say that the increasing reluctance of councils to use experienced agencies with hundreds of families approved for adoption on their books leads to delays in placing children.


The number of adoptions nationally fell by three per cent last year and councils failed to meet the Government's target of a 50 per cent increase in adoptions between 2000 and 2006.


Harrow was criticised by government inspectors for placing only seven of the 11 children required to meet the 2005-6 target, and has so far placed only three children in 2006-7.


Councils say it costs them up to 15,000 to place a child using their own adoption services, compared with up to 26,000 if they use an outside agency.


Coram's fee for providing a family and supporting the child is 24,900 but Harlow council said it had decided to "outsource" adoption because it was in the children's best interests.


Janet Mote, from Harrow children's services, said: "We have struggled with the recruitment of qualified staff and that isn't fair on the children.


"Coram have a strong track record for placing children with families and we're delighted they have agreed to take up the challenge."


John Hart, the chief executive of the charity, which places an average of 70 children a year, said the partnership would provide highly-trained staff, a large supply of families from a wide range of backgrounds and a wealth of expertise in adoption built up over 40 years. "We're looking forward to working closely with Harrow to help them meet their adoption targets and find stable homes for the most vulnerable children in society," he said.


Last month, this newspaper revealed that 1,500 "forgotten" children were languishing in care waiting to be adopted because local authorities could not afford, or were not prepared to pay, the fees charged by voluntary agencies who have hundreds of families waiting to adopt.


The 1,500 children approved for adoption are among 60,000 in care in England alone. Most have been removed from violent or abusive parents.


About a third of the 60,000 children will go back to one or both of their parents within two months. About 7,000, mostly teenagers with little prospect of adoption, live in care homes.