During the investigation of the Watergate scandal by Woodward and Bernstein, their source “Deep Throat” (if you aren’t familiar with this story, don’t google that phrase at work) told them to “Follow the money”
It is an accusation often made about child protection work that there’s a financial motivation or incentive behind decisions being made and outcomes of Court hearings. That’s an accusation that seems fanciful and ludicrous, but so was the suggestion that the President of the United States was sanctioning illegal bugging of the headquarters of the opposition party (or indeed that the US Government would be phone-tapping the German Chancellor in peace-time) but these things did happen.
This is an attempt then, to Follow the Money, in care proceedings. Apologies, it is going to be by its nature, quite a long piece.
So much so that “We’re gonna need a bigger blog” (and I’ve split the piece into two chapters)
I’ll do it by looking at each group or agency involved, and looking at two factors – income and job security. Within each, I’ll break these down into Direct influence, Indirect Influence and Ultra-Cautious. I’m looking at these things with a critical eye – I’m not saying here that anyone IS doing this or IS thinking this, I’m saying that with a critical eye is it POSSIBLE that someone might? What are the things that MIGHT bring in a bias to decisions and recommendations in care proceedings because of money?
(The Ultra-Cautious bits are where I push the influence of money as hard as one feasibly could. It may be that many of my readers hold the view that the Ultra-Cautious sections hold the real truth of things, they are entitled to hold those views. I’ve headed them “ultra-cautious” rather than “conspiracy theories” because after all, Watergate would have just been a conspiracy theory if Woodward and Bernstein hadn’t gone on to prove it)
I’ll say at the outset that one of the major causes of suspicion – that the Government pay financial incentives to Councils based on the amount of adoptions they achieve (and thus that Councils recommend adoption in care cases in order to get that money – the “adoption targets” argument), is beyond the scope of this article.
There has certainly been a degree of truth in that – during Tony Blair’s Prime Ministership there were payments made by central Government to local authorities who were able to demonstrate that they had matched or bettered targets in relation to adoption set by Central Government.
There are two lines on this
1. Those payments were made to Councils who got more children adopted, and thus there was a financial interest in recommending adoption, and more social workers recommended adoption than other less drastic orders because there was a financial gain involved. If that’s true, it is obviously a very very bad thing.
2. The payments were made to Councils for SPEEDING UP waiting times for the children who had already been approved by the Courts for adoption, and were about cutting down the time that those children were ‘in limbo’ waiting for placements. It didn’t have any impact on recommendations for adoption as the plan for children, because it was all about speeding up the process for children where the Court had already made decisions.
[and I suppose a third]
3. Even IF version 2 is right, then Councils tried to change the profile of the children they had up for adoption to make it easier to hit the targets, i.e that taking babies with minor problems into care were easier to place with adopters quickly than five year olds with major problems. So taking into care less damaged and younger children resulted in more money.
[The third is certainly touched upon in Sue Reid’s Daily Mail piece that really exposed this / set the conspiracy theory running , depending on your perspective http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-511609/How-social-services-paid-bonuses-snatch-babies-adoption.html ]
I have not dealt with this in more detail, because I would want to find the evidence that I could lay out for everyone that supports both claims, and try to reach a fair conclusion.
The reason that I’ve put that to one side is not because I’m ignoring it, or because I’m covering it up, but rather that to write a piece on that properly is going to require more investigation and scrutiny of the facts. At this time, I don’t have the facts about how much was paid, what the circumstances were, what the money was paid for, what the targets were, what was done with the money, whether it is still happening and whether it had any impact on recommendations to Court. I want to get them, and I want to share them with you, but it is a much bigger piece of investigation.
It would be wholly wrong of me to back that claim or rubbish it, without a proper investigation. That might be an investigation that’s beyond me and my skills, but I will try at a later point to do it. I don’t think my ‘journalism’ is ever going to result in Robert Redford playing me in a movie, I’m strictly an amateur.
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”
Anyway, back to Follow the Money.
You’d be a fool to say that there is no money involved in care proceedings at all. There patently is. The CAFCASS figures are that about 10,000 sets of care proceedings are being issued a year. Each of them is costing money, and in each of them, someone is getting money.
The Plowden report http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/1044/1/court-fees-child-care-proceedings.pdf took two case studies for care proceedings and costed them out. All the legal costs, the court fees, the expert fees.
One set of proceedings cost £64,000 and one £97,000. As we will come to later, there’s a broad rule of thumb that adding up foster care costs, social work costs and meetings etc, that having a child in foster care for their childhood costs about £100,000 per child.
Just looking at the legal costs -that was back in 2009, and costs have gone down since then – there are far, far less experts than in those case studies these days, and lawyer’s fees have also gone down (as, finally, have court fees, although not abolished as Plowden recommended).
But looking at those cases, back in 2009 (and using the lower one of the two case study figures) there was about half a billion a year being spent on care proceedings.
So, were decisions being made by professionals and agencies purely on the evidence, or did the money directly or indirectly influence any of those decisions? I’m trying here to look at “In any individual case, might a decision be motivated by financial reasons, whether deliberately or unconsciously?”