The Adoption Target and its effect today
The Sunday Express
today has a story about how over a thousand children each year continue to be wrongly adopted as a result in part of an error in calculating the adoption target.Christopher Booker today in the Sunday Telegraph
looks at an additional two case studies.
There is a lot of misinformation spread by civil servants (and parroted by ministers) about the adoption targets.
Each English Council with childrens services responsibility had a specific local target known as BV PI 163 or PAF C23. (Those are "Best Value Performance Indicator" or "Performance Assessment Framework".)
This was calculated as the number of children adopted from care each year by that local authority as a percentage of the total number of children that had been in care for at least 6 months as at the 31st of March of the same year. (The years go from 1st April to 31st March same as the financial years).
All local authorities had specific funding to encourage adoption and some also had financial rewards from the government for hitting their local target.
From April 2006 the adoption target was redefined to be a permanence target which included Adoption, Residency Orders and Special Guardianship orders.
This was scrapped from 1st April 2008.
The target, therefore, had the effect of skewing local authority decision-making up to and including the year that ended in 31st March 2008 (which is called in the stats 2008).
The first government lie is to pretend the target only lasted until 2006. It was redefined in 2006, but lasted until 2008.
Some local authorities (eg Merton) still have such a target. These targets, however, are not nationally agreed.
The mathematical error is to have as the numerator (children per year) and the denominator (children). This does not give a percentage. A percentage is a dimensionless number. This gives a dimension of (per year).
The problem is that it was generally thought that the proportion of children being adopted was in fact relatively low when it was far more common.
An example of this error of thinking can be seen in Ofsted's APA of 2008 or Alan Rushton's paper from 2007.Outcomes of adoption from public care: research and practice issues
written by Alan Rushton includes the following:Nevertheless, it would be wrong to think that any wholesale moving of children from birth families into adoptive families is taking place. Adoption from care concerns just a small proportion (6%) of all looked after children in England (Department for Education and Skills, 2005) and so remains a relatively uncommon solution to the needs of these young people.
The problem is that the proportion is not a "proportion".
If we take all the children that left care aged under 5 in 2005 (4,200) we find that 2,100 were adopted. That is 50%.
Realistically as children get older they are less likely to be adopted. Those children that go into care above 10 are often those that do so because their parents cannot cope with their behaviour. It is, therefore, unlikely that they will be adopted.
In 1997 2,000 under 5s left care, but only 640 did so through adoption. That is a lower percentage (because a higher proportion went home to their parents). However, it is still 32% which is a lot more than the 6% figure that is quoted.
The argument that was put by the government is that they were dealing with children "languishing in care". Superficially you could say that there was an increase in the number of children leaving care and those were those which ceased languishing in care (again looking at those aged under 5). However, you find in fact that the difference between the number taken into care and that leave care still remains at about 2,000 per year (although 2010 was in fact 2,800).
What you find, in fact, is that when the pressure for adoptions started (which was actually earlier than the adoption target) that the numbers taken into care also increased. There are anecdotal reports of local authorities looking for potential adoptees (called by some practitioners adoptible commodities).
Hence what was a laudable objective was based upon a misunderstanding of the statistical picture. Furthermore there is a continuing problem.
Practice has not substantially changed although there has been a relatively small drop of in permanence numbers (which includes a higher reduction in adoption numbers, but still to a much higher position than pre the adoption target).
As far as the under 5s are concerned the 2010 figure was 2,000 compared to the 2005 figure of 2,100.
Furthermore we now have the nonsense from Martin Narey who compares the historic numbers of theoretically voluntary adoptions (in an era before better contraception, abortion and changing social attitudes led to large numbers of babies being born inconveniently and being adopted) to those forcibly removed from families through the use of some corrupt experts and a legal environment which is biased against non-institutional parties.
The Government Minister is also calling for more adoption from care without having any evidence base to identify which children it is that need to be adopted.
There is undoubtedly a big problem with reactive attachment disorder. This appears to be caused at times by babies being removed at a very early age and then getting insufficient personal attention.
Whether this policy will be shifted before enough of the people who have been through it create an outcry is unclear. A lot of damage is being done - particularly to the children - by a policy based on mathematical errors and a lack of intellectual rigour in policy setting.
The real flaws in the decisionmaking remain hidden, however, by the secrecy in the system and desire to protect the backs of those people who earn money from the system.