Tag Archives: statistics

The woeful state of our debate about child protection, Part II: Hemming and the Latvian case

John Hemmings address to the Press Conference in Riga, Latvia.

On 31st August John Hemming uploaded onto YouTube a video.

I mentioned this on Twitter and expressed the hope the Latvian authorities are getting information from sources other than this. John Hemming has asked me to explain why I am concerned with what he says in his video.

What’s my problem? Summary

What’s wrong with this video? In general, to conduct the debate about the child protection system in this way, using inflammatory language, offering assertions as fact, displaying confirmation bias throughout and simply ignoring anything which might not support your argument simply underlines for me the very sad fact that the state of debate about our child protection system is woeful. It is embarrassing that we cannot do better.

It is all the more tragic because John Hemming does make some good points. He is right to point out that until recently LA were NOT aware of their obligations to inform other States that their citizens were facing care proceedings and the removal of their children. But that has been addressed and dealt with.  John Hemming should get credit for making a fuss about that, because it is important.

However, whatever good he has managed to do has, in my opinion, over many years been sadly submerged under a pile of ill informed and inflammatory assertions.  This does not promote debate or aid greater understanding or help children. Rather it drives proper debate further underground and the children are left to suffer in a system which is arguably not fit for purpose. 

If he is going to set himself up as an expert advising the Latvian authorities, I hope he will take the time to explain further to them his role as a ‘champion’ against the child protection system, and in particular his links with Ian Josephs and the ‘mums on the run’ network. 

I think the Latvian authorities ought to be fully informed about the background and activities of someone who proposing to ‘assist’ them in actions against another State. It is then a matter for the Latvian authorities whether they think they will be helped or hindered. For my part, I would urge them to act with extreme caution before accepting uncritically John Hemming’s views of the child protection system.

Particular problems.

It’s about a 5 minute video. This is what he says just 31 seconds in:

The Government sets targets to destroy families.

Why frame your argument in this way, right at the outset? Is this kind of inflammatory language remotely helpful in promoting debate and understanding between two States? Is this really what he thinks is the purpose of the child protection system in England? If that is what he really thinks, does he accept that he is going to need to provide some pretty clear evidence in support of such an astonishing allegation?

At 36 sections he says that the LAs act wherever possible to remove children from their families’ Again, an inflammatory statement which is not a reflection certainly of the current law that makes it crystal clear that adoption is the option of last resort.

He references a recent case which I won’t identify here as it seems that the whole purpose of this video is to encourage the Latvian authorities to put pressure on the Supreme Court to consider an appeal in this case. An interesting way to mount a legal challenge, using ‘interesting’ in the sense of ‘utterly inappropriate’.

He makes particular assertions about the state of the evidence in this case, claiming that the only real independent evidence was a core assessment, which was ignored because the SW Managers put pressure on to get another child to meet their adoption targets. It will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court make of this assertion.

He refers to statistics which show that ‘obviously’ a LA was biased because they have targets to increase adoptions ‘year on year’. Is he going to discuss with the Latvian authorities the efforts made by the Transparency Project to unpick and analyse his statistics? It clearly is not as obvious as he would wish to maintain that the Merton KPIs are irrefutable proof of a Government set target to ‘destroy families’.

I don’t disagree that the current ‘push’ for adoption is concerning – and I note this particular blog post with serious concern – but after years of searching, I haven’t been able to find clear or indeed any proof that the Government is setting out to ‘destroy families’. There are obviously problems in the system which we need to deal with urgently – but deliberate, malign targets of destruction are not one of those problems. See the ‘Forced Adoption’ post for further discussion.

The more time we waste posturing about issues which don’t exist then the less time we have to deal with the problems that clearly do. What does John Hemming have to say for example about the clear and stark regional differences about rates of children taken into care? The Merton rates are tiny; about 12 children a year are adopted or subject to a SGO. You are much more likely to be taken into care if you are a child in Blackpool. Why is this? Why isn’t John Hemming interested in this?

Could it be, a cynical voice inside me utters, that it is just more ‘exciting’ to set oneself up as an advisor to the Latvian government and enjoy the accolades that attach to such campaigning, rather than actually care about and do something about the depressing and mundane realities of inequality in our society? Not as much press interest in the latter I suspect.

The debate at the Transparency Project is here. John Hemming has been asked a number of questions about his statistics which at the time of writing he has failed to answer. I am particularly interested in his assertion that he has statistics from 1995 which will prove that there are ever increasing numbers of young children being taken into care and subsequently adopted. I would like to see this evidence.

 

Conclusion

As Claire Fenton Glynn commented on Twitter about John Hemming’s video.

Claire Fenton-Glynn ‏@CFentonGlynn
@SVPhillimore A number of fundamental errors of reasoning. There are definitely flaws in English system but this clouds productive debate.

Please. We simply have to do better. We are educated adults. We are surely capable of a debate that reflects all the nuance and complexity of the current problems we face.

I have to believe that but at the moment I am seeing precious little to reassure me from any source.

Adoption Statistics

Discussion about what the statistics do or don’t tell us about the rise (or fall!) in adoption rates has grown considerably throughout 2015. Therefore we have removed this discussion from the Forced Adoption post to consider it separately here.

Those who campaign against ‘forced adoption’ maintain that the initial ‘targets’ to get children out of foster care and into permanent families has lead to a ‘trickle down’ effect so that SW target cute ‘adoptable’ children and initiate care proceedings to get them into the system and thus improve their ‘adoption hit rate’. If this is true, can we find any support for it in the data which is published about applications for various orders and the orders that are eventually made? 

 

Lies Damned Lies and Statistics – what do the figures say about adoption rates?

On 30th September 2014 the government issued a press release applauding the rise in adoption numbers. Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education said:

Today’s figures show a significant and sustained rise in the number of adoptions – an increase of 26% in the last 12 months. This means thousands more of our most vulnerable children are finding the loving and permanent homes they so desperately need.

We also promised to remove delay and frustration from the process for both children and adopters. Today’s figures show that we are delivering on that promise. The system is working more quickly, as well as providing more support to families after an adoption has taken place.

However, In November 2014 Sir Martin Narey raised concerns that since February 2014 LA decisions to pursue adoptions are down by 46% and number of placement orders granted by the courts has halved.

His concerns were so great that the National Adoption Leadership Board issued ‘myth busting’ guidance about what the court does or does not say about when adoption is necessary.

For further discussion see Pink Tape’s ‘Take me to your Leadership Board’.  We look at this issue in more detail in the post ‘When can the courts consider adoption is necessary?

It is clear that the Government remain committed to increasing the numbers of children in care being adopted and refer to the recent authorities as ‘set backs’. See this answer from the Prime Minister at Parliamentary Questions in 2015:

Hansard from Wed ( October 14th 2015 ) : Q4. [901524] Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con): The Prime Minister recently spoke movingly and shockingly about the life of despair that still lies ahead for too many of our looked-after children.
Notwithstanding the vital work that has been done in recent years, will he expand on the reforms that he proposes for these, our most vulnerable citizens?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who knows a lot about this from the work he did in London when working for the Mayor.
I think that there are two areas we need to look at most of all. First, we need to speed up adoption processes. We should be reducing the number of children in care by ensuring that they can find loving family homes. We have made some progress, but frankly we have had set-backs, not least because of some of the judgments in our courts, so we need to get the level of adoption back up again. Secondly, we need to take some of the knowledge from our education reforms and use it to reform social services.

The rise and fall of adoption rates.

So there was no doubt that adoption rates were rising. But they are probably going to fall again given that decisions by LAs to pursue adoption have fallen by nearly half.

See further the excellent article by suesspiciousminds about newspaper reports in May 2015 concerning the ‘freefall’ in adoption rates after the ‘chilling effects’ of various cases. 

So have the anti forced adoption campaigners had an impact? Are they responsible for this fall by unmasking the truth behind ‘adoption targets’?

We believe the short answer to that question is ‘no’.  To consider this in more detail,  we need to look at the reasons behind the previous rise in the number of adoptions. There are a number of possible explanations:

  • First; that the governments plans to speed up adoption rates for the children already in care were working well; OR
  • LAs were generally under pressure to avoid another Baby P scandal and were pushing for adoption in cases where before a child might have returned home; OR
  • LAs were suffering the consequences of difficulties in recruitment and retention of social workers so cases were not being assessed as carefully as they should be; OR
  • LAs were deliberately targeting younger, more ‘adoptable’ children and social workers would lie to ensure the children’s removal from loving and blameless parents.

 

Can the statistics help us decide what’s been going on?

The danger with statistics is that often they can be used to prove any kind of argument you want. Some opponents of the system have at times offered quite contradictory views about what is going on – see this report from the Daily Mail in 2011 which asserted that adoption rates were falling because adoptive parents were afraid of being called paedophiles.

The blogger Second Daddy comments:

If you want to learn about Forced Adoption then look into it yourself, make your own mind up. If you want to see the raw figures for adoption in 2010, the year quoted by John Hemmings MP in the above Wikipedia article, it’s here. You’ll see that there were 4550 adoptions in England & Wales that year; John Hemmings stated that there were 1360 “Forced” adoptions that year, 29.89% of the total. 1000 of these he claims were “wrong”, 21.89% of the total, 73.53% of the “forced” adoptions. So a third of Adoptions are “forced”. That’s a fairly big number, and it is something we’re aware of and it is a concern, but. But. It’s a guess. With the greatest of respect, Mr Hemming has no idea how many of these were “wrong”. He pulled that figure out of his ass, he has no proof, just a hunch.

However, if it is true that local authorities are or have been targeting younger and hence more easily adoptable children to improve their adoption rates, we should expect to see that reflected in the statistics and we should be able to see a clear rise since 2000 of babies being taken into care and subsequently adopted.

 

We have found the following statistics.

Children in Care and Adoption

In 1976 4,000 babies were adopted. In 2011, 60 (according to the Daily Mail).

The article ‘Adoption Targets Row; the Sector Responds’ from 2007 in Community Care gives the following figures:

  • 2,490 under-fives in care were adopted in 2006, up from 1,010 in 1995.
  • 4,160 under-fives were first taken into care in 2006, up from 2,870 in 1995.
  • 1,300 babies aged younger than a month when they were taken into care were adopted in 2006, up from 540 in 1995.
  • The average age at adoption in 2006 was four years and one month.
  • 3,700 children were adopted from care in 2006, up from 2,700 in 2000.

So we can see there has been an increase in children being taken into care and being adopted over time from a low starting point, but that the average age for adoption in 2006 was over 4 years old. So 4 years after Hemming argues that babies are being targeted, this does not appear  to be reflected in the average age on adoption.

Compare this with statistics from 2013 

6% (4,310) of children looked after on 31st March 2013 were under 1 year old
18% (12,360) were aged between 1 and 4 years old
19% (13,260) were aged between 5 and 9 years old
36% (24,450) were aged between 10 and 15 years old
20% (13,730) were aged 16 and over

The average age at adoption in the year ending 31st March 2013 was 3 years 8 months

2% (90) of children adopted during the year ending 31st March 2013 were under 1 year old
74% (2,960) were aged between 1 and 4 years old
21% (850) were aged between 5 and 9 years old
2% (70) were aged between 10 and 15 years old
<1% (10) were aged 16 and over

So we see that only 6% of looked after children in March 2013 were under one year old.  Only 90  (2%) were under 1 year old when they were adopted. There is a small decrease from the average age at adoption in 2006 of 4 years 1 month, to 3 years 8 months in 2013 – six years later.

However, in 2013, 13 years after LAs were supposed to be targeting babies, across the country, they have only managed to get 90 babies adopted and the average age at adoption is nearly 4 years old.

On these figures, if there is a deliberate conspiracy to target and remove babies and young children, then the LAs are doing a pretty poor job.

In 2013 there were still 3 times as many children needing adoption as there were adoptive placements. This also points against any argument that care proceedings are targeting the ‘adoptable’ children – otherwise why are there so many children in care who can’t find adoptive families?

See further the article in Community Care;  ‘An ideological approach to adoption figures means we are missing important trends’.

Removal of new born babies

However, research by Karen Broadhurst at the University of Lancaster, in December 2015 has shown a significant increase in care proceedings involving removal of new born babies from mothers who have been involved in repeat care proceedings and have lost many proves children. She found a ‘disproportionate increase’ : from 802 in 2008 to 2,018 in 2013.

The research can be downloaded here.

 

What happens in care proceedings?

See these statistics from the second quarter of 2015. 

John Hemmings and others often asserts that almost all care proceedings result in care orders (and thus parents should leave the jurisdiction rather than engage with care proceedings).

Figure 3 shows the proportion of children subject to which final orders at the end of care proceedings. This does not support the assertion that ‘99%’ of applications for a care order end up with the child being removed from the parents or the wider family.

  • Care Order 30%
  • Supervision Order 18%
  • Residence 12%
  • Special Guardianship 14%
  • ‘Others’  11%

 

ITV Exposure Documentary

On 15th July 2014 barrister Martha Cover stated on the ITV documentary Exposure – Don’t take my child  that orders ‘permitting adoption’ had risen by 95% in the past three years.  This seemed high to us so we are very grateful to Andrew Pack for doing some digging and commenting:

Placement Order applications since 2011, and Placement Orders made by the Court since 2011.  These taken from the Court stats spreadsheets.

  • In 2011 – applications made 5821, orders made 5109.
  • In 2013 – applications made 7178, orders made 6082.

That’s about a 20% increase. Annoyingly, I don’t have the stats for 2010, which is presumably when Martha is calculating from, but I’d be REALLY surprised if it was as high as claimed. For that to be right, the applications in 2010 would need to have been around 3500… Interestingly, you can see a downturn on both in the last 6 months (i.e. since the Re B-S stuff was really percolating through) – and it is almost 50% down in the first quarter of this year from the high point.

I reckon the error here is in taking the numbers of children each year who are subject to Placement Orders, which is going up at a significant rate, as demand for placements outstrips supply and we add to the numbers each year with new cases, but also don’t clear the decks of the children the year before who needed placements.

A 20% increase in something as drastic as placement orders is still reason for concern, but it isn’t 95%, not by a long chalk.

Follow the money

You may be interested in these articles by Andrew Pack for more detailed consideration of whether it is possible that there  is a financial motive or incentive driving care proceedings.

He comments:

What I would say, for the ultra-cautious people, is that I would agree that the lack of transparency on ‘payments and adoption targets’ is deeply unhelpful and creates a genuine reason for people to feel sceptical, uncomfortable and unhappy. The absence of clarity and transparency is itself very shabby. It may or may not have distorted how many times adoption was recommended in final social work evidence, it may or may not have had an impact on individual people’s cases. At this point, we don’t have the evidence to draw a proper conclusion and that in itself is wrong. It creates at best, a fishy odour, and as we well know, “Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done”

The impact of the continuing ‘push’ for adoption

it will be interesting to see what impact the continuing ‘push for adoption’ has on statistics in the coming years. The PM made this comment in October 2015:

Hansard from Wed ( October 14th 2015 ) : Q4. [901524]

Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con): The Prime Minister recently spoke movingly and shockingly about the life of despair that still lies ahead for too many of our looked-after children. Notwithstanding the vital work that has been done in recent years, will he expand on the reforms that he proposes for these, our most vulnerable citizens?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who knows a lot about this from the work he did in London when working for the Mayor.I think that there are two areas we need to look at most of all. First, we need to speed up adoption processes. We should be reducing the number of children in care by ensuring that they can find loving family homes. We have made some progress, but frankly we have had set-backs, not least because of some of the judgments in our courts, so we need to get the level of adoption back up again. Secondly, we need to take some of the knowledge from our education reforms and use it to reform social services.For example, we need to see the best graduates going into social work.

 

Further reading about statistical trends