Adoption is in crisis: the number of children put forward to be adopted has fallen by almost half in under a year.
The Adoption Leadership Board (ALB) said in the three months to June 2014, there were 960 initial decisions by local councils to place a child for adoption, compared with 1,830 in the three months to September 2013.
The Board believes the drop in adoptions may have been influenced by recent court judgements in care and adoption cases.
The ALB, which was established by the Government as part of a shake-up of the adoption system, said applications for court orders allowing a child to be placed for adoption had fallen by 34 per cent.
It said there had also been a fall of 54 per cent in the number of placement orders granted by courts, from 1,650 to 750.
In recent years, adoption figures had risen to record levels, with an increase of 63 per cent.
But last September, the most senior family court judge criticised the 'sloppy practice' of social workers when bringing cases for adoption before the courts and said they were not looking closely enough at all the other options.
President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, also implied that, at a time of tight budgets, adoption may be seen as a cheaper option than helping troubled families or foster carers and warned about 'resource issues' affecting local authorities' thinking.
He said there had been four cases during 10 days in July alone in which judges had expressed concerns about inadequate analysis by social services in support of the case for adoption.
ALB chairman, Sir Martin Narey, said these court judgements had been 'entirely sensible'.
But he warned that they were being misinterpreted by local authorities who thought the law on adoption had changed.
He said the recent drop in children being put forward for adoption was primarily due to fewer local authorities deciding adoption was the best option for a child.
But he said some councils seemed to have taken some court rulings to mean that if a child could remain in foster care, then 'that will do', when in fact the best interests of the child must be pursued.
The recent fall in children being put forward for adoption has prompted Sir Martin to issue guidance to clarify the meaning of recent court judgements.
He said: "It is clear from my discussions with social workers and managers in local authorities and in voluntary adoption agencies that there is a belief that the law has been fundamentally changed by a number of court judgements.
"So I am pleased to produce a simple myth-busting guide - drafted by a senior queen's counsel - to what those judgements do and do not say."
His guidance reiterated that the legal test for adoption had not changed, and courts must be provided with expert, high quality, evidence-based analysis of all realistic options for a child and the arguments for and against each of these.
Sir Martin said: "The board and I have published this guide to help everyone working for children understand the law around these complex cases, and be confident in making the right decisions for the child."
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