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More help for potential adopters
New support for adoptive parents has been unveiled by the Government in a bid to help find hundreds more volunteers to home 4,000 youngsters on a national register.
Potential adopters will be given a "more active role" in selecting a child and granted the same maternity and paternity paid leave arrangements as biological mothers and fathers.
Officials are also examining whether the register could be opened up to approved candidates to allow them to help choose potentially-suitable children.
The changes were set out by Prime Minister David Cameron who has taken a strong personal interest in efforts to make the system "swifter, more effective and robust".
Children's Minister Edward Timpson urged people celebrating Christmas tomorrow to "think seriously about opening up their home to a child awaiting adoption".
Other measures being proposed include more "activity days" where prospective parents can make "a real connection" with a child on the register which have proved very successful especially with those considered harder to place; the right to take time off work to meet the children they are set to adopt before they move in to help smooth the transition; trials of personal budgets to give parents more choice over support services; include adopted children among those qualifying for free education at the age of two for 2014; and a telephone helpline manned by adopters and an online service.
Mr Timpson said: "We know that children do well in an adoptive family and I hope this comprehensive package of support will lead to more and more people having the confidence to come forward and provide a chance for these children to thrive and reach their potential.
"This support will also provide more help to those who are already adopting children who have been in care. I urge everyone this Christmas to think seriously about opening up their home to a child awaiting adoption."
Former Barnardo's chief Martin Narey, now the Government's adoption adviser, said new evidence from the US - and more recently the UK - suggested giving adopters the initiative improved matches. "Of course, that does not mean that adopters can simply choose their child, they still need professional advice on such a vital decision. But it is clear - and indeed I have observed - that there is a chemistry between adopters and children which can provide a foundation for a very successful adoption."
David Holmes, chief executive of the British Association of Adoption and Fostering which has piloted the activity days, 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."