The government claims its adoption reforms will save councils hundreds of millions of pounds over the next decade.
An impact assessment on the Children and Social Work Bill found as much as £310 million could be saved over the next 10 years through more looked-after children being adopted and fewer fostering placements being needed.
The shift will be helped by regional adoption mergers and speedier matches through the creation of a larger pool of prospective adopters, the document said.
A leading fostering charity questioned the savings claim and predicted the number of adopted children would remain “relatively static” despite the changes.
The Children and Social Work Bill, which is going through parliament, places a duty on social workers to consider how any potential placement for the child could meet current and future needs. It also puts prospective adopters on the same legal footing as birth family members in care proceedings.
It follows reforms under the Education and Adoption Act, which compelled local authorities to merge their adoption services into regional agencies.
The government has described its package of changes as a “fundamental” reform of adoption and Prime Minister David Cameron has described himself as “unashamedly pro-adoption”.
However, adoption experts have said the measures in the Children and Social Work Bill reflect current practice rather than a fundamental overhaul. Concerns have also been raised by a fostering charity.
Responding to the impact assessments, a Fostering Network spokesperson said: “Regardless of government rhetoric, the vast majority of the rising number of children who will continue to come into care will not, nor should be, freed for adoption.”
“It must be recognised that in the drive to reduce the number of children in the care system that the largest single age group in care is those aged 10 years and above, and the fastest growing age group is adolescents. It is highly unlikely that adoption would be assessed as the best permanence option for these children and young people. While the proposals will speed up the process of adoption for those who it’s been considered to be in the best interest for, the number of children freed for adoption would likely remain relatively static,” the spokesperson added.
They added that an expected “upsurge” in the educational outcomes for adopted children was “naïve” without fully funded post-adoption support.
“The short-termism of not even acknowledging long-term foster care as a permanence option in the Bill must be mentioned. Savings aren’t just about the immediacy.”
The Department for Education also committed to funding its proposed reforms to care leaver support in the bill, which it said would cost £4 million in 2017-18, and £8 million a year until 2020.
Care leavers, if the bill passes, would have access to a personal adviser extended until they are 25, rather than 21 as it is currently. Local authorities would also have to publish a local offer for care leavers.
The Children and Social Work Bill would mean sweeping reforms to the social work profession, and the government has recently come under fire for treating parliament “with contempt”. Lords consider the legislation to be a skeleton bill that leaves a lot of the detail up to secondary legislation, and gives a lot of power to ministers.