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Councils making millions in incentives after snatching record numbers of babies for adoption
By SUE REID
Councils are being offered bonuses of millions of pounds if they meet controversial State adoption targets.
Confidential figures obtained by the Daily Mail show that £36million in 'reward grants' has been promised to English councils in an attempt by Labour to increase adoptions of children by 50 per cent.
The money-earning targets were introduced by Tony Blair in 2000 and were intended to lift more older children out of the care system.
But critics say it is the most 'adoptable' babies and children under four who are being removed in the biggest numbers.
More than 900 newborn babies are now being taken from their mothers each year, a 300 per cent increase in little more than a decade.
The number of children aged between a week and a month removed from their parents has risen to 1,300 annually, a rise of 141 per cent in the same time.
In the past two weeks alone, eight newborn babies have been taken from their mothers at hospitals in Newcastle and North Tyneside.
The number is so high there are not enough foster parents in the area. One baby - thought to be the ninth taken from its parents - is being cared for in a special hospital unit because there is no foster home available.
Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming has demanded an explanation.
He said: "We are seeing a massive increase in the forced removal of newborns. Babies are being taken before they can even be breastfed. Social workers are seizing very young children on the flimsiest of excuses and giving them to other families.
"This smacks of social engineering on a grand scale. The offer of monetary rewards for meeting the targets has created a frenzy among social workers. There are council targets for recycling rubbish and now targets for recycling children."
Figures prepared by the Department for Local Government and Community Cohesion show that two councils - Essex and Kent - were offered more than £2million over three years to encourage additional adoptions.
Four others - Norfolk, Gloucestershire, Cheshire and Hampshire - were promised £1million in extra funds.
Critics say very young children are specifically selected - even before birth - by social workers to get the bonuses. It is believed that 1,000 each year are wrongly taken from their parents.
Last week a court ruled that a couple whose first three children were taken for adoption should keep their fourth, now a year old.
Abuse allegations against Mark and Nicky Webster turned out to be false. But they will never see their three lost children again because adoptions are irreversible.
Despite the cash inducements, adoptions of older children - the very ones who were meant to be helped - have dropped dramatically.
The number of over-sevens adopted in England has fallen from 100 in 1996 to 50 last year out of a total of 5,400 adoptions.
Beverley Beech, of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services - a body which advises new mothers - said: "The Government is denying that social workers are targeting babies for adoption.
"But the desperate calls on our helpline from pregnant women who have already been told by social workers, for no good reason, that they will lose their babies immediately they are born, or from mothers of new babies taken for adoption, prove these denials are not true."
Campaigners also want an opening up of family courts, where adoptions are overseen in utmost secrecy. Parents are warned that if they tell anyone - even their closest family - what goes on they could face prison for contempt of court.
Family law solicitor Sarah Harman, the sister of Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, said: "It's not the welfare of the child that is being protected - it's the welfare of social workers".
North Tyneside Council said last night: "In the past few weeks steps have been taken to protect six babies at serious risk of significant harm. In all cases the mothers have frequent contact with their babies and are encouraged to breastfeed."
Newcastle Council confirmed that two babies had been removed during the same period.
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