Councils have been asked to review their adoption practices following concerns eligible parents who wish to adopt are being wrongly turned away.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson made the request following a drop in the number of assessments recommending adoption as the best option for vulnerable children, the Department for Education (DfE) said.
Mr Williamson said local authorities should not “shy away” from putting children who are in care forward for adoption.
The DfE has now published updated advice for councils to “make clear” that age, income, sexual orientation and marital status should not be used as reasons to turn away prospective adopters.
It comes amid concerns that parents who want to adopt are being turned away despite the law stating they are eligible, the DfE said.
Children and families minister Michelle Donelan said there were “misconceptions” about who can and cannot adopt, which she felt could be putting off potential adopters.
“Neither age, ethnicity nor sexual orientation should be a barrier to adopting. What matters is the love and protection a parent can provide,” she said in a statement.
“That is why I have written to councils asking them to make sure they are following the law correctly so that no-one is wrongly excluded.”
If adoptive parents can offer love, care and a stable home, and if councils think it is in the best interest of the child, I will back them 100% in recommending adoption
Data collated by the Local Government Association found there were 78,150 children in care in England as of March 31 2019 – a 28% increase on the 60,900 children in care a decade ago.
The DfE said the latest figures showed that of the 2,700 children waiting for adoption, almost 40% had waited more than 18 months. Of those, 24% were from black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) backgrounds.
Mr Williams said: “If adoptive parents can offer love, care and a stable home, and if councils think it is in the best interest of the child, I will back them 100% in recommending adoption.”
The updated advice follows a further £45 million Government investment in the Adoption Support Fund which will be available next year, the DfE said.
We are really concerned about the drop in number of adoptions and that approved adopters are now outnumbered by children awaiting adoption
More than £1 million will also be provided for regional adoption agencies to run recruitment campaigns in 2020 aimed at finding adoptive families for Bame children, the DfE said.
Adoption UK’s chief executive Sue Armstrong-Brown said: “Adoption is a critical route out of care for children who can’t return to their birth families and I welcome the Government’s renewed commitment to ensuring the adoption sector is fit for purpose.”
Dr Carol Homden, chief executive officer of children’s charity Coram, said: “At Coram, we are really concerned about the drop in number of adoptions and that approved adopters are now outnumbered by children awaiting adoption.
“There are currently over 4,000 children awaiting adoption in this country.”
A Local Government Association spokesman said: “Additional funding for regional adoption agencies to recruit prospective adopters is good news, as is the extension of the Adoption Support Fund which has helped so many families.
“We urge the Government to also consider investing in the recruitment and support of foster carers to make sure that we have the most suitable placements available for all children.”