Videos and photos of children waiting to be adopted are to be made available to people approved for adoption from this autumn as part of a pilot scheme.
Potential adopters will also be given access to the register of children waiting for adoption, but contact can only be made through a social worker.
The government hopes the scheme will lead to more adoptions.
There are currently about 6,000 children waiting to be placed in adoptive families in England. About a third of them have been waiting for more than 12 months. The Adoption Register is a secure online database that stores the details of children waiting to be adopted.
Until now only adoption agencies and social workers have had access to details of children and families on the register.
Children’s Minister Edward Timpson said: “Opening up the Adoption Register- allowing parents approved to adopt to see videos and pictures, to hear the children speak and laugh – while keeping in place the strictest safeguards – will give them a greater role in the process and ensure more children are placed with their new family much more quickly.”
Currently internal software creates potential matches between adopters and children, by cross-referencing certain characteristics such as age, these are then filtered through by social workers who consider it in more detail before taking any further steps.
Under the pilot scheme, starting in September, approved adopters will be able to “search” the register to look for characteristics of the kind of children they are seeking to adopt.
If they come across a child or children who they think may be suitable they will then be able view their profile information, photographs and videos of the children. They are then able to get in touch with the child’s social worker or relevant adoption agency.
Interim director of child placement at the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, Sue Brunton, said the aim was “to put the chemistry back on the process”. “If you have a bit of paper that’s a report about a child, it’s really difficult to get a sense of what that child is like. So we think photos and videos will bring that child alive.” “The best films I’ve seen are kids doing what they like doing such as riding a bike or doing some colouring. It’s about presenting the child as they are. It’s not like the child is saying, ‘Choose me, take me home.'”
However, she acknowledged there could be some pain for children not selected by prospective adopters, but stressed they would be well prepared by their social worker.
“Ultimately there may be some upset for the child,” she said, “But it’s about getting a balance and taking the right action for the child. It may result in a family.”
She stressed that there were safeguards in the new system as the children are not identified and any move to contact them must be taken through social workers.
“We hope that this will increase the number of adoptions and speed the process up,” she added.
Over the past few years there has been a shift in the adoption process from an approach led by a social worker to one led by the prospective adopter.
The pilot scheme involving 19 local authorities and 10 adoption agencies will be independently evaluated before any decision to expand it is made.
The announcement comes as the government pledged children adopted from care will be targeted with an extra £20m to get the support they need to thrive at school.
It is hoped the funding worth £1,900 per pupil, will help to close the attainment gap and transform the future life chances of an extra 10,000 pupils.