By Simon Caldwell HOME SECRETARY Jack Straw has been urged to introduce legislation to compel social workers to put unwanted and abused children up for adoption rather than place them indefinitely into care homes. Jim Richards, the director of the Catholic Children's Society (Westminster), wrote to Mr Straw because he was concerned by reports which showed the number of children going into local authority care homes was going up, while the number of those to find permanent new families was going down.
He was also deeply worried that out of the 53,000 children aged between four and 15 years who are in care, almost 30,000 have been there for longer than 12 months and a quarter for more than five years.
So far, both Mr Straw and Health Minister John Hutton have promised to do more to break down a culture of opposition to adoption among social workers, which has in some instances ruled out prospective parents on the grounds of religion, race, class, weight and age.
In an echo of John Major's administration, guidelines were issued last month by the Government to social services departments throughout the land on the importance of considering adoption.
But the measure was met with scorn from sociologists and children's welfare experts, like Mr Richards, who were united in their belief that they would not be enforced and who now call for legislation to force local authorities to get children out of care. In his letter, Mr Richards sharply criticised the "negative view of adoption" of many local authorities. "To put this right requires legislation, in order to influence grass roots decision making and action," he wrote.
Prominent sociologist Patricia Morgan also argued that more should be done to ensure that children who had to be taken away from their biological parents could, after a year, be offered the chance of adoption. In her new book, Adoption and the Care of Children: The British and American Experience, she says that adopted children do almost as well as those in stable two-parent families but that those in care homes or foster care were 50 times more likely to end up in jail, 60 times more likely to end up homeless and four times more likely to be jobless in later life.