Hopefully this will be the final installment of what has become something of a marathon.

Context :

Firstly, orientation :

The original Marilyn Stowe blog is here.

Our original reply is here (part 1).

Mr Hemming’s response on his blog is here (23/8).

Our part 2 is here.

Mr Hemming also updated his 23/8 post on 31/8 (wrongly dated 31/7) here.


John Hemming has helpfully sent us the original spreadsheet and covering emails from the DfE and we can now see where they came from. It doesn’t seem that the original source is SSDA903, and they don’t come with any workings or explanations of assumptions applied, but these do appear to be stats produced by the DfE and there is no particular reason to think they are inaccurate. They show :

  • the numbers of children UNDER 5
  • excluding s20 children
  • who ceased to be looked after as at y/e Mar 14
  • and why

We can compare that with the stats for all looked after children of all ages, but we can’t disaggregate s20 / non s20 children in the over 5 group. We would *guess* that the number of children over 5 who left care for adoption from s20 is pretty small, but we don’ t know.

So, we can see that :

5,050 children of all ages, including s20 left care through adoption in the year to end Mar 14.

Of those 52% were unopposed, 48% consent dispensed with.

Of those 5,050 children adopted some 73% were under 5 (excluding any under 5s who were accommodated under s20 and who were then placed for adoption – probably not a high figure).  Accordingly, only 27% of all children leaving for adoption were either over 5 or were under 5 but on s20). We think it is pretty clear that a higher proportion of under 5s leave care for adoption than older children, but we didn’t need these stats to tell us that as it is widely accepted.

We’ve worked out the reason for our startlingly high 78% of over 5 adoptions being unopposed – we got the adding up wrong! We’ve updated our part 1 to reflect that. So it is not a flaw in the statistics after all – our human error not theirs. This means we no longer need to ask the DfE for an explanation.

In fact, the stats show that a higher proportion of children over 5 (or s20) left through opposed adoption (66%) than in the under 5 group (52%). We don’t think that is surprising – for children over 5 there is more likely to be a good basis for arguing that adoption is not achievable, high risk or otherwise not in the best interests of a child – and less draconian options like long term foster care or special guardianship are more likely to be suitable / have more advantages for children. So we would expect to see those arguments being run more often, even if they don’t always succeed.

In his further update Mr Hemming says

It is true that in a small number of cases the application does not result in an ICO or Care Order. From memory it is around 3% of applications (according to MoJ statistics) that do not result in an ICO or Care Order.

We doubt that 97% of care applications result in an interim care order. Many children remain at home (perhaps with supervision orders) or are placed with family members and interim care orders are not required. We think that happens in more than 3% of cases.

We doubt that 97% of care applications result in a care order. Many result in special guardianship, or supervision orders, or no order.

We doubt that 97% of care applications result in a public law order (care or supervision order).

It is conceivable that 97% of care applications result in either an interim care order or a full care order – but we think it is unlikely. We think that the number of children in proceedings who have been excluded from Mr Hemming’s under 5 statistics because of their s20 status could have a significant impact on the statistics overall. We know that John Hemming’s numbers exclude 2,620 s20 children under 5. That represents 9% of all children leaving care in the period in question. John Hemming is right that some of these children will not have been subject to proceedings – but not all. And we think that if you are looking at how readily the system resorts to adoption you have to look at ALL the ways the system manages risk and all the solutions the state utilises instead of adoption – one of those mechanisms is s20 accommodation with or without proceedings running alongside. Why would you ignore 9% of the children who haven’t been adopted when looking at how commonly or readily adoption is resorted to?

Hemming says

It remains that the outcome of adoption from care without parental consent is commonplace rather than exceptional. There is, in fact, no real threshold distinction between dispensing with parental consent and simply adopting from care. That is not in accordance with international law. We can argue about the 3% of cases which start with S20, but do not end with a care order of any kind, but that does not make a substantial different to the point that the system as a whole is unlawful.

It is not the purpose of this post to say whether Mr Hemming is right to hold his opinion about the approach to adoption. Our focus has been upon whether the evidence relied upon makes good the assertion. However, we don’t think that the assertion that adoption is commonplace rather than exceptional or that the system as a whole is unlawful can be made good by statistics alone (for reasons explored in parts 1 and 2).

Finally, we’re going to deal with a point Mr Hemming raises about quotas, in Merton and elsewhere, in another post. We’re doing some work on that because we think Mr Hemming raises an important point that worries a lot of people and we want to get it right.