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Adoption change 'backwards step'

Moves to lift what David Cameron calls "absurd barriers" to mixed-race adoptions are a "backwards step" that could breach international obligations, MPs and peers have said.

A parliamentary committee said ministers had failed to provide evidence the rules were responsible for delaying the placement of ethnic minority children.

Legislation being debated by parliament would end the legal requirement for councils to give "due consideration" to religion, race, culture and language. The Prime Minister believes such rules "trap many non-white children in care" by encouraging officials to seek a "perfect match".

In a report on the Children and Families Bill however, the joint committee on human rights criticised the change.

"We are not satisfied that the Government has demonstrated by reference to evidence that this statutory provision which it proposes to repeal has been responsible for delays in the adoption process to the detriment of children from ethnic minority backgrounds," the committee concluded.

"Also, in our view, removing from the legal framework any reference to 'religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background' risks those considerations being regarded as no longer matters to which due regard must be paid, which would be incompatible with Article 20(3) UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child). We recommend that, instead of removing all reference to those considerations from the statute, they are instead added to the welfare checklist to which local authorities are required to have regard."

Hywel Francis, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said: "The Government's current plan...is a backwards step and will not properly address the problem of delays in adoption experienced by black children, which urgently needs addressing."

The committee also criticised the failure to extend a new duty to provide children with special educational needs (SEN) with appropriate health services to social care as well. And it called for the creation of a "single avenue of redress" in relation to the new Education Health Care Plans, which will replace statements.

It described as a "retrograde step" the decision to exclude detained children and young people from the improvements to SEN services. The Ministry of Justice should make "rapid progress on its proposals to use EHC Plans to support children and young people in custody so that the Bill can be amended to include detained children and young people", it said.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "It is wrong that black children in care take on average a year longer to be adopted than children of other ethnicities. We are getting rid of political correctness and changing the law so that a child's ethnicity should not be considered more important than other characteristics and needs. These include the need to find a loving family swiftly."

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