Vulnerable children will be trapped in care homes after the Government quietly suspended a database used to speed up adoptions, a committee of peers has warned.
The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has published a report on developments for the Adoption Register for England that criticises the Government for scrapping the requirement for local authorities to register all youngsters after they have waited 90 days.
The register was set up in 2001 and strengthened in 2012 when councils were ordered to use it to alert a larger pool of parents if they could not find a match locally within three months.
But it was suspended by the Department for Education (DfE) from the beginning of April this year while future needs of adoption are considered. Social workers and adoption agencies have been told that only a commercial service can be used in future.
This has prompted the committee to say it could damage the chances of finding new homes for the hardest to place children – those with disabilities, from ethnic minorities and siblings. Matches were found for 277 such children in the last year alone.
Lord Trefgarne, the Conservative chairman of the committee investigating the changes, said: “We are concerned that the statutory register has closed down before new arrangements are fully in place.
“The department is unclear about what will happen to the more difficult cases and we would like to know what will be done to mitigate the risk.”
The head of Coram, the children’s charity that has run the national register for the past three years, warned some of the most at-need children would slip through the net.
“Agencies were required to register any child or adopter waiting after 90 days. This provision has now been lost so there is a new risk some children will go unseen,” said Dr Carol Homden.
“For hard to adopt children, any delay may already be too late. Many of the children we serve do not have the luxury of waiting for a new system to be embedded.”
They have pointed out there is no requirement for a child to be registered with Link Maker, the social enterprise for placing children, which councils and agencies must also pay to use. Critics have said that although it provides a useful service it will not proactively find matches for children who are not selected.
Nadhim Zahawi, the children’s minister, has rejected the criticism, in a letter to the committee he wrote: “As well as a larger pool of adopters, Link Maker contains more hard-to-place children than the Adoption Register did.”
Andy Leary-May, Link Maker’s chief executive, wrote that its service had been extended to include fostering and residential care, to give all children “the widest placement choice”.
Now an attempt to force ministers to think again will be made in the House of Lords. Lord Russell of Liverpool, an independent peer, will use the device of a ‘regret motion’ on 18 June to press the Government to reconsider.