In part 1 we responded to a blog post by John Hemming on the Marilyn Stowe blog. We raised some queries which Mr Hemming answered in a blog on his own blog. It’s taken us a few days to respond, but here is what we think of that response.
Firstly, orientation :
The original Marilyn Stowe blog is here.
Our original reply is here.
Mr Hemming’s response on his blog is here.
In his blog response Mr Hemming reiterates that it is important to distinguish between “compulsory care” and “looked after”. He states that his figures therefore exclude s20 children in a way that published national statistics do not.
John Hemming states that the analyses he relies on were done by DfE statisticians at his request, presumably whilst he was an MP. It does not appear that the DfE have published the analyses themselves so it is difficult to verify the statistics produced by John Hemming are accurate. The published data does not allow us to reconstruct or understand the analysis. Although Mr Hemming’s spreadsheets cite a source therefore (published stats SSDA903), which is where we went to verify what he was saying, in fact his source is not really those stats at all.
It is correct that the published data that we have relied upon includes s20 children (18,400 of them plus a small number on a series of agreed short term placements (respite)), and this potentially explains the discrepancy between our two sets of figures. This group of 18,400 represents about 60% of the children who ceased to be looked after in y/e Mar 2014, but we don’t know how many of them ceased to be looked after because they went home and how many of them ceased to be looked after because they were adopted or any other reason.
In our original post we queried the proportion of under fives who were reunited with parents. Mr Hemming suggests we ask the DfE (he does not give a name). We are therefore no further forward. We will ask the DfE, and update if we receive anything. At present though, because we only have a spreadsheet which wrongly identifies its source as SSDA903, we still can’t verify whether or not John Hemming’s figure of only 16% of under fives going home is correct. If it is, it is certainly lower than the proportion of all children who leave care to go home (including all ages and s20). We don’t think that necessarily means the court system is operating unlawfully, but it is certainly worth thinking about why that figure might be lower (if that turns out to be the case).
Is it appropriate to exclude s20 children?
We agree that there are differences between “voluntarily” looked after children and those under orders, but it is difficult to generalize about s20 children. We don’t agree with the suggestion that s20 does not involve the court. Many of these children will be children who are the subject of proceedings and who would be the subject of a care order if the parents were not agreeing to accommodation under s20. These children may or may not go home. Some of the s20 children will be looked after voluntarily without proceedings ever being issued – these children are likely to go home. However, John’s assertions were about the care system “as a whole”. We think it is appropriate to look at the statistics for the system as a whole when thinking about criticizing or understanding the system as a whole.
We presume that the DfE statisticians who analysed the statistics also have the stats breaking down where s20 children who cease to be looked after end up – if John Hemming has those it would be really interesting to see them.
Hemming says we are :
conflating children who are voluntarily put into care by their parents and then taken from care and the compulsory care system involving public family law.
We agree we are including these children, but we think that is the right approach (as apparently does the DfE who publish the stats). Children who are accommodated under s20 are unlikely in many cases to be “taken from care” without the agreement of the Local Authority (perhaps because parental circumstances have improved) or the sanction of the court – a withdrawal of consent is likely in some cases to lead to the issue of proceedings or the making of an interim care order. So, whilst Mr Hemming says
Particularly if one wishes to consider the operations of the courts one could not mix up the statistics by including children who are not subject to court proceedings of any form,
we think that in excluding all s20 children, we would be excluding a cohort of children who are subject to state intervention of the sort Hemming complains of.
Hemming goes on to say :
We know that the number of care orders and the like each year is around 11,500. Hence from the table (C1) of children who start being “looked after” where for 2014 there are 30,340 we can estimate that the total number coming into the care system as “looked after children” on S20 was around 19,000.
In fact table C3 [SSDA903] gives us a figure of 18,400 (so not a bad guesstimate, John). Court statistics show us that about 14971 public law cases were issued in y/e Mar 14 (CAFCASS puts this at 10,620, which is quite a big difference). CAFCASS stats (See prev link) suggest 18,129 children were the subject of care proceedings started in y/e Mar 14. We think it is likely (based on anecdotal experience only) there is a lot of overlap here, and that a significant proportion of the 18,400 s20 children are probably amongst this cohort of 18,129 children also becoming the subject of care proceedings, although it is difficult to say what proportion because we can’t find any statistics to tell us.
Hemming says :
Let me put it this way. There are quotas. Increases in the quotas cause changes in the numbers of children adopted. How does this happen if decisions are not influenced by quotas.
We are not sure what evidence Mr Hemming is relying on to support the proposition that there is a causal link between quotas and the numbers of children adopted. Nor do we know what quotas he is talking about – so there isn’t a lot we can say about that other than it is presently un-evidenced (but not necessarily wrong). Hopefully Mr Hemming can clarify.
An unanswered query : 78% of adoptions of under 5s unopposed? Really?
We said :
John Hemming’s figures suggest that a very high 78% of children over 5 who left care through adoption were adopted unopposed compared with an overall figure of 9%. We think this is a very surprising figure and it makes us wonder if something has gone wrong with the analysis – but again we would need to see the analysis to see if we are right about that. If it is right, it raises some really interesting questions.
John Hemming has not responded to this query.
Answering our own question
We asked :
One further question : If 45% [of under fives leaving care] are adopted and 16% go home, what happens to the other 39%? We wonder what percentage of younger children are placed with special guardians or under residence orders with relatives. Our guess would be that proportion might be higher than for older children.
John Hemming didn’t answer this, but we realise now that IF Hemming’s spreadsheet can be relied upon, the answer to this question is in there – 1930 of the 8200 leaving care are under residence or SGOs (either to their foster carer or someone else, 1300 excluding the foster carer placements). That is 16%, which is 5% higher than the average of all children (including s20 and over fives). So, on that basis – even if there are proportionately fewer going home to mum and dad, there are more staying within the wider family or with familiar carers under orders less draconian than adoption.
Correcting our own error
We said :
It is also important to remember that the figures we have been looking at don’t include all those children who are the subject of care proceedings but who are not removed pending long term decisions
, or who are in local authority care voluntarily under s20 Children Act 1989. If those children were added into the pot the 8% figure would be likely to reduce. The figures we have been looking at also don’t include children who are the subject of child protection plans but not proceedings.
Actually, that wasn’t quite right. The SSDA903 stats DO include those in s20 accommodation (as we’ve identified above). We’ve amended that paragraph as above by putting in a strikethrough on the original post.
A big problem with Mr Hemming’s analysis is this : He said in his original post that :
The assumption of the compulsory care system is that children are taken into care on a precautionary basis and reunited with their parents “if possible”. The proportion of under fives being reunited with their parents, however, is only 1,300 out of 8,200 (16 per cent) in the year to 31st March 2014.
It is clear from this that “non consensual” or “forced” adoptions are not exceptional within the context of the care system as a whole – contrary to international law and treaties.
But it turns out that the statistics Mr Hemming has relied upon to show that the proportion of children being reunited is too low to be lawful has deliberately excluded two categories of children who are most likely to be reunited – those over five and those who are accommodated under s20. S20 children are likely to represent the “easier” children to reunite – if there were really serious issues the likelihood is they would not be under s20. Children over five represent children who are harder to place for adoption, and who often have the greatest drive to go home, which can undermine alternative placements. It is unsurprising in this context if Mr Hemming’s figures tend to suggest that children are less likely to be reunited with parents. He has selected those groups of children who are more likely to need and manage placement away from family and created a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There are perfectly reasonable arguments to be had about whether in England (and Wales) we are too enthusiastic about adoption and do not try hard enough to find alternatives, and about why things go wrong in individual cases, but we don’t think these statistics provide a balanced evidence base for properly informed debate to take place.
We will let you know if we get anything back from the DfE.
[Update : See Part 3]