Councils to be scored on adoption
Councils are to be issued with scorecards laying bare how long they take to find adoptive parents for children in care.
Education Secretary Michael Gove said the move would "shine a light" on local authorities which had "let down" children by taking too long to place them with loving families. It is part of an action plan for adoption which also includes plans to reduce the approval process for would-be adopters to six months.
Council leaders warned that the new scorecards would pit authorities against each other and prioritise "speed over quality".
However Mr Gove, who was himself adopted, said there was a clear case for "urgent and radical" reform and that councils would be expected to improve within months. A child entering care will, on average, wait a year and nine months to move in with an adoptive family and the number being found new homes each year is in decline.
"For too long, children in care have been let down by local authorities and the family justice system," he said. "I believe scorecards will shine a light on which authorities are doing well and which ones need to improve. Local authorities should be in no doubt that we expect to see improvements in the coming months.
"Quality placements are of paramount importance but there is no excuse for delay. We know that delay can be deeply damaging and every year a child waits there is less chance of being adopted. Some agencies and local authorities are already striking the right balance and this urgently needs to become the norm."
The scorecards - the first of which will be published within weeks - will feature three key indicators relating to authorities' performance on adoption: the average time it takes for a child to be moved in with an adoptive family; the proportion of children waiting longer than they should - including those still in care, and the average time it takes an authority to match a child with a family after a court has decided that adoption is the right course.
The Government is also to consult on a new six-month approval process for people wanting to adopt, as well as fast-track processes for people who have already adopted and approved foster-carers.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents town halls, warned of children being treated as "a commodity to be processed as fast as possible" and of prospective adopters being put off by misleading scorecards.
David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: "Pitching councils against each other through targets and score cards is a gamble that could actually prove detrimental to the adoption process unless it captures the full picture of a lengthy court process and burdensome government regulation. We cannot afford to put prospective parents off if their council is wrongly deemed to be underperforming."