Merge order to speed up adoption
Plans to force councils to merge services in order to speed up adoption rates are to be announced in next week's Queen's Speech.
Adoption is "happening at too small and localised a scale", the Department for Education (DfE) said, and mergers would increase the pool of potential adopters, reducing waiting times.
Official figures suggest more than 3,000 children are waiting to be matched with new parents, with more than half having spent 18 months in care.
The proposed Schools and Adoption Bill will contain new powers to require local authorities to merge if they do not do so themselves within two years.
Children and families minister Edward Timpson, who grew up with two adopted brothers, said: "Every single day a child spends waiting in care for their new family is a further delay to a life full of love and stability. This just isn't good enough.
"By coming together and joining forces, councils can make sure more children are matched with families far quicker - regardless of where they live."
The Government said it would encourage town halls to set up their own mergers or outsource services to a single regional agency, while they will also be offered financial support to establish regional services.
Last year, according to the DfE more than 5,000 children were found the permanent home, representing a record increase of 26% over 12 months.
Hugh Thornbery, chief executive officer of the charity Adoption UK, said: "The last government made significant progress in improving the adoption system, as seen in the increase in the number of children placed, and important developments in adoption support. We hope that proposals will be set out in the Queen's Speech that build on this intention to provide brighter futures for children for whom adoption is the best option.
"I am pleased that the new Government has maintained a focus on adoption - there is yet more to do. Too many of our members still report a high and unhelpful degree of variability in the approach of adoption agencies, and I have long held the view that 180 agencies in England does not make sense when only 5,000 children a year are being placed."
Mr Thornbery added: "The encouragement to local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies to work more closely together under regional arrangements makes sense as long as we see continuous improvements in matching children and supporting families when they need it."
Barnardo's chief executive Javed Khan said: "The immediate and long-term welfare of the child must always be paramount. Getting children into the best placement first time reduces disruption and should be an essential part of the system. There are still many children waiting too long for a loving home, so we welcome any efforts that put children first.
"Barnardo's works to support many adopters, not just during the application process but in the years beyond as the family grows up together."