The Transparency Project and Adoption Targets
The Transparency Project have today produced a blog English councils confirm they set targets for the number of children to be adopted
. That in itself is not news. Councils have prioritised adoption for many many years. What is new is that they recognise that when I say rather than being used to get children out of the care system, such ‘targets’ instead risk impacting on decision making at the stage where people are deciding if children should enter the care system i.e. when a decision is made to apply to the courts for a care order, and whether they should be adopted as opposed to some other care arrangement being chosen.
I may be right.
I would like to thank them for this. BASW warned that the effect of adoption targets would be to stop children being with their birth families. That warning was ignored by government. I have seen a number of cases where local authorities have delayed telling pregnant mothers of their intentions until after the date for a legal termination. Many mothers have decided they prefer a termination to care proceedings. I have even had a case referred to me where a woman with learning difficulties was reportedly encouraged to get pregnant. The local authority, of course, would plan for her child to be adopted.
There is, however, a bit of confusion on their blog about the issue of adoption of babies. Many of the children taken into care compulsorily spend some time in care. Hence if a baby is removed in care proceedings it is likely that the baby will be over 1 before being adopted. I ask the government to produce figures on movements in and out of care. In this case it also includes Section 20 although ideally I would exclude S20.
In the year to March 31st 2016 90 children looked after aged under 1 ceased to be looked after through an unopposed adoption. 80 children aged under 1 ceased through an opposed adoption. One would assume that the 90 are babies essentially voluntarily given up by their mothers. It is statistically the right order of magnitude. However, even including S20 5,530 children aged 1-4 ceased to be looked after. Of those 1,650 were adopted without opposition and 1,660 were forced adoptions (consent dispensed with). 810 returned home to live with parents or relatives of which 670 returned to their parents). 1,170 had either SGOs or residency orders.
That, of course, is a very high percentage for the traditional measure of "permanence" (81%) and about 60% to adoption. I would congratulate the transparency project on finding the national adoption percentage performance management framework. I didn't find that myself although I didn't try that hard as it was obvious what was going on given the ministerial letters etc. I obtained the detailed records for Merton because I put that to the Supreme Court who refused permission to appeal (on a case involving a Latvian mother) arguing that independent experts were not necessary.
Interestingly the new performance management look at the proportion adopted as a proportion of those ceasing to be looked after. That, of course, includes:
a) Children in care under S20
b) Teenagers whose parents cannot cope with them
c) Teenagers who become 18.
Hence the percentages look lowish, but are misleading. If I had the energy I would try to get the department to sub analyse the information they have sent me separating out S20 from children in care. In terms of definitions children "in care" are those who are compulsorily in care. When you add those on S20 to those in care you get children "looked after". However, I have other things to do, the department are difficult about FOI requests and it does not make any material difference although it does improve the accuracy of the information