More support for adopting parents
Parents adopting children in England are to be given extra support and a "more active role" in the adoption process, says the government.
Ministers want more adoptive parents to come forward to increase the number and speed of adoptions.
The plan would let approved would-be parents see the register of children waiting to be adopted.
The British Association for Adoption and Fostering "warmly welcomed" the proposed changes.
The number of children approved for adoption rose from 3,000 in 2010 to more than 4,000 in 2012, government figures show.
But there are still about 4,000 in care waiting to be matched with prospective parents.
Children's minister Edward Timpson said up to 25,000 people asked about adopting each year, but thousands ended up being deterred by the process and the delays.
It could take years just to get approved as a prospective adopter while children remained in care, waiting for adoption, he said.
Labour's spokeswoman for children and young people, Lisa Nandy, said: "More does need to be done to enable adoptive families to get the right amount of support and advice, especially post-adoption.
"But the government must ensure it also provides sufficient support for foster families and children in residential care too."Adoption register
Ministers want to encourage more people to come forward and consider adoption, but say the assessment process for would-be adopters will remain rigorous.
The changes to the system will mean people approved as adopters will be able to consult a version of the adoption register for information on children and young people waiting for adoption.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said that this change would need primary legislation.
The plan will also give prospective adopters a legal right to take time off work to meet children they are due to adopt, while parents of two-year-old adopted children will be given 15 hours a week free nursery care.
Ministers also plan to pilot personal support budgets for adoptive parents. They say this would allow families to decide exactly what support they need - for example, parenting classes. A two-year trial will begin in some areas in April 2013.
There will also be financial support for "adoption activity days" - where prospective adoptive parents can meet children waiting for adoption.'More support'
The charity BAAF has already run three activity days which resulted in one in five of the children present being successfully matched, ministers say.
Karin Consolos, from Bournemouth, Dorset, has just been approved to adopt.
"We went before a panel in October and are now officially approved to adopt.
"We had identified one child, but the agency who was placing her found someone else (who lived a shorter distance away, so it was much easier for them). The proposed changes would make a huge difference, as support, or lack of it, can vary tremendously depending on which agency you are with.
"We are very lucky to be in Bournemouth, as the local authority team are incredibly helpful and enthusiastic about what they do.
"However, I wonder whether these changes will include any maternity pay to self-employed people.
"Only recently we found out that if you adopt you can only claim if you are employed, which is quite bizarre. Our agency did not even know this themselves. It is a rather unfair law and does need changing."
"This is a package of support to all those who are looking to adopt, to make sure that if they do want to pursue an interest in adopting, they will be welcomed with open arms," said Mr Timpson.
"They will be far more involved and active in the matching process and once they do go through the process of adoption they will have far greater levels of support and involvement than they currently have."
The government's adoption adviser, Martin Narey, said the proposed changes would make a real difference for adoptive parents.
John Simmonds, the director of policy research and development at the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, said the process needed to be "speedier".
"There's no doubt that we need to improve the timeliness of the process, of making sure that anyone who has an interest in becoming an adopter, that they are welcomed by the adoption agency, they get the information and advice that they need, and the assessment that needs to be done is done in a speedy way."
David Holmes of BAAF particularly welcomed support for the activity days.
He said: "Now, more than ever, we need more people to consider if adoption could be right for them. We must find families for the thousands of children who are waiting, whilst ensuring that adoption support is available to meet the needs of all."
He added that the plan to improve support for adoptive families was vital to ensure adoptions had the best chance of succeeding long term.
Hugh Thornbery, chief executive of Adoption UK, said: "We are pleased to learn adopters will be treated more fairly, both in terms of education and adoption pay and leave."
But he also raised concerns that "cuts in local government and the NHS will mean that insufficient services are available".
Janet Grauberg of the charity Barnardo's said: "Everyone should be mindful of the damage that is done the longer a child is without the love and stability of a permanent family.
"The government's changes will help to empower adopters by increasing support and reducing the barriers that have been putting off potential parents for far too long."
The plans follow other measures to improve the adoption process already in the pipeline, such as allowing adoptive parents as much maternity and paternity leave as biological parents plus a telephone helpline and website.