PRIME: MINISTER Tony Blair was this week urged by a Catholic children's group to honour his pledge to find new homes for children in care and to make a new law on adoption a priority.
The Catholic Children's " Society (Westminster) wrote to the Prime Minister to outline key changes it wants made to streamline adoption and fostering processes so children could be moved swiftly from dysfunctional families or local authority care homes into stable families.
"We want the courts to monitor the progress of the adoption plans to cut out unnecessary delays and to make sure that local authorities are not just sitting on them," said director Jim Richards. "We also want to see some legislation to speed up the process to make children free for adoption."
Mr Blair promised to tackle the culture of opposition to adoption and to launch a radical overhaul of adoption laws in the wake of the Waterhouse ;! Report into abuse in children's homes in North Wales, and in response to mounting public concern over the plight of Britain's 53,000 children who are in care.
He will chair a committee made up of Home Secretary Jack Straw, Health Secretary Alan Milburn and Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy which precede a consultation document on a new law. "We want to see if new adoption laws are required," said a Downing Street spokesman. "We are talking about making it easier to adopt."
The move was welcomed by adoption agencies who had unsuccessfully asked New Labour for a new law in 1997, but instead the Government tried to allay anxieties by issuing a circular encouraging adoption.
"We have been advocating this since the early 1990s," said Mr Richards, "but I still doubt we will see any change in the law this side of the General Election. 1 wish it had been tackled this Parliament. It is only now that they are taking it seriously. I am critical of the delay."
The Prime Minister's intervention might also have been prompted by a "turf war" between Mr Straw, who as chairman of an inter-depart mental group on the family wants to speed up adoptions, and the Department of Health, which does not want vetting procedures compromised.
John Major's Green Paper on adoption ended with the Conservatives fall from power. A new law might also have been delayed in fear that the Tories' slender majority could spell the success of a Labour amendment to allow gay couples to adopt.
Of all the children in care. 30.000 have been there longer than a year and 13,000 more than five years. Numbers going into care are rising but those to find permanent new homes are going down. In some cases, prospective adopters have been disqualified on grounds of religion, race, class, weight and age.
Research shows adopted children do almost as well as those in the stable care of two natural parents, but those who grow up in care or a series of foster homes, and who often had complex problems, were 50 times more likely to go to jail, 60 times more likely to end up homeless and were four times as likely to he jobless in later life.