Adoption, League Tables and Targets

I don’t and have never worked in adoption services. I have though worked in Adults Services in a Local Authority. I know about targets. I know about performance indicators.

So Cameron’s ‘oh so brave’ declaration that he will be ‘name and shame’ councils that don’t facilitate speedy adoptions struck me with more than a hint of misunderstanding and opportunism on his part.

A government playing politics with social care – that would be a surprise!

The shocking statistic that the Prime Minister calls up is that only 60 children were adopted last year in the UK. It did surprise me to be honest and I would be wholly in favour of streamlining a variety of processes but there are a number of assumptions that the Prime Minister makes that I would challenge.

The BBC article explains

The Prime Minister said: “It is shocking that of the 3,600 children under the age of one in care, only 60 were adopted last year – this is clearly not good enough.

Um. Does he realise that children in care ≠ children available to be adopted?

Of course 60 is low but I assume that many of those children in care are in shorter term placements and may well return to family or kinship carers after an initial period. Maybe someone with more information about that can correct me if I’m wrong but the dichotomy presented of either ‘languishing in care’ or ‘being adopted’ seems blatantly false and misleading.

The other little  nugget provided by the article from the BBC is that

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton suggested if councils were not performing well enough services would be privatised.

which is, I expect, a great driver of the government’s policy.

I’m not against systems working better but I am against government propaganda and misinformation. I can see more centralisation of adoption services being positive – it makes no sense to me that people living in neighbouring localities who might be the perfect match for a child are on different ‘lists’ but that’s not the same as quantifying a child’s future to meet a target or to move up a league table.

I can talk from experience about the ways that league tables and targets have been used in the services I do work in and I am beyond cynical about them. Local authorities have found ways to fudge systems and create the ‘correct’ results. Meeting a target is not the same as providing a quality, person-centred services.

As for the naming and shaming, is it really necessary? I suspect more important is the overarching threats of privatisation. Many of our targets have been linked to funding and I’ll be surprised if this is not rumbling in the background at some level.

A lot of my initial responses have been from the gut but I’d be interested to hear about any other experiences of these ways of quantifying work.

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7 Responses to “Adoption, League Tables and Targets”

  1. Great piece, thanks for sharing. I know vwry little about adoption services but think all your assumptions sound plausible so I’m assuming you’re right until told otherwise! I also believe that targets and systems are helpful, when understood and used appropriately.

    My two gut responses:
    1) small numbers of children being adopted is one small piece of a much bigger jigsaw. Surely the focus should be on why care is not as good an option as adoption? Why children end up in care in the first place and what the system cld do better to prevent that? Focusing on targets, unless done extremely well, could end up as crass, crude and over simplistic when we’re talking about ppl’s lives.

    2) Michael Gove was adopted, I can’t help but think this current target campaign is driven by personal experience rather than an evidence informed assessment of the big jigsaw.

    Thanks again, George

  2. I don’t work in adoption services either, though in CAMHS we do a certain amount of work with looked-after children.

    Although I’m not an expert on the field, one issue that I suspect is a problem is that when people say they want to adopt, they often mean they want a newborn baby. They don’t necessarily want a traumatised, abused 12 year old who’s out getting into drugs, getting arrested, self-harming etc.

    • 12 year olds almost never get adopted, or even have a plan.

      5+ years is generally the cut off point for most people. After that age the kids are rarely advertised anyway, unless they have a significantly younger sibling.

  3. This is a policy drawn up by people who clearly have no idea what they are talking about. The majority of delays we experience as a service are not because children aren’t adoptable, but because the Judge’s decide to play social worker !

    I oversaw a case where birth parents had 4 kids previously removed & adopted. Both in prison for child cruelty & yet the Judge wanted every assessment under the sun! We knew at removal (birth) that baby wasn’t going home, but the legal jumping through hoops is what causes delays.

    Never mind naming & shaming COUNCILS, name & shame JUDGES!!!!!

    • That baby is finally going up for adoption at just over 1 year old. Won’t lodge for adoption order until 18 months now.

  4. I have never worked in chldlrens services but I agree, the prospect of decisions about children’s futures being driven by targets is hideous. My authority doesnt seem too bad but you hear of some where for example people are pressurised into accepting a direct payment even though they have no wish to manage their own services, just to get the numbers up.

    It is a few years ago now that I remember reading about one voluble anti abortion campaigner who let slip that her real motivation was to get nice newborn babies produced for adoption. An old colleague in childcare used to call them ‘tiny white perfect babies’ as I recall. This new drive smacks rather of – “the parents are bound to be hopeless/feral underclass etc anyway so let’s not mess about.”. Mind you I tend to agree with those in the childcare professions who point out that chidlren are irredeemably damaged by the age of three, so may it isnt such a bad idea after all.

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