This is a guest blog post by John Hemming, in response to our recently published adoption posts work and our call for more debate on this important topic. We welcome John’s contribution and the contributions of others who wish to participate in public discussion. Please email us on if you would like to contribution to the discussion by writing a guest post. Alternatively, we’d encourage you to comment below.

The views in this blog post do not represent the views of The Transparency Project or the individual members of it. Some members of the project group have  (in their individual capacity) previously challenged John Hemming on his activities and views, and the publication of this post should not be taken to indicate a change of opinion on those other matters (see for example here : Calm Down Dear: Why I worry about John Hemming – and why you should too. or on Pink Tape here).

John Hemming’s post

I would like to thank those that have created the Transparency Project for doing so. Sadly there has been too little actual debate about how child protection occurs in particularly England. In many ways that little debate that has occurred has been overly simplified. It is useful to have a detailed discussion even if there are strongly conflicting views as to what is actually happening.

I become particularly concerned about how the system was operating around 10 years ago. A number of people had raised with me concerns about injustice and they seemed to have a reasonable case. My first step, therefore, was to look to find out what statistical information there was about how the system operated.

Reasonably quickly I discovered the SSDA903 return. This is an electronic system whereby each Childrens Services Authority (not all local authorities have responsibility for Childrens Services) send data about every looked after child. This data is quite detailed. It involves not just when a child goes into care, but also changes of placement and changes of legal status. Hence if a child goes into care under S20, but then changes to be under an ICO a record appears in the SSDA903 return.

I managed to discuss the operation of this database with the statiticians in what was called the Department for Children, Schools and Families. I discovered, for example, that the database included the date of birth of children. Hence it was possible to identify the age babies were taken into care to categorise them not only by years, but also weeks and months. I made a number of requests for additional data from the department according to criteria that I specified myself. I continue to do this today.

The SSDA903 return came in closely after the 1989 Children Act. It is, therefore, possible to go back until 1993 to see what changes have occurred to the system. My earliest data is from 1995. I believe the information from 1994 is of some use. The amount of data collected has changed over the years and for a period around the change of the millennium the data was sampled by thirds rather than getting full sets of data.

Using the figures for the financial year (1st April – 31st March) where the year stated is the year in which that year ends it is possible, therefore, to see that 5,500 children were taken into compulsory care in 1995. This has grown over the years and for example 10,790 children were taken into care (excluding S20) to 31st March 2015. 1,180 babies were taken into care in 1995 and 2,740 babies in 2015. 430 babies under 1 month were taken into care in 1995 and 1,680 babies under 1 month in 2015. I don’t have the figures for 1995, but in 2015 1,190 babies were taken probably from the hospital in the first week of their lives.

It is clear, therefore, that the growth in numbers of children taken into compulsory care has been greater at the younger ages.

I soon came across the issue of the adoption targets. The government had two mechanisms of encouraging adoption for local authorities. One was the Public Service Agreements whereby local authorities were given multi million pound bonuses for increasing numbers of children adopted and the other was that there was hypothecated central funding for adoption.

There are two main reasons for government enthusiasm for adoption. One is the publicly stated argument that this is better for the children. The second one which is not emphasised as much is that they don’t then have to pay foster care fees of around £40,000 per annum per child.

In theory, therefore, children that are “languishing in care” get adopted. The SSDA903 return, however, makes it clear that there is a large turnover of young children into care and out of care into adoption. If we look only at children aged between 1 and 4 we find 6,070 such children left care in 2015 of whom 3,990 (for all intents and purposes 2/3rds of them through adoption). Of the remainder 890 left care through an SGO and 190 has a residency order.

From 2008 the national adoption target was scrapped. This, however, did nothing to the existence of local adoption targets. The PSA funding was scrapped and the hypothecated funding was taken outside the ring fence. In 2010 David Cameron’s government, however, wrote to local authorities calling for them to do “everything possible” to increase adoption numbers.

They did say appropriate adoptions. However, they cannot count the inappropriate ones and no-one really admits that any are inappropriate. It remains, however, that Ofsted place pressure on local authorities to increase adoption numbers and the pressure goes down the line from Cabinet Member for Childrens Services, to the Service Director to the Area Managers to the Team Leaders and finally to the practitioners – who are primarily responsible to those that pay them notwithstanding their theoretical duty to the court.

One social worker whilsteblower who spoke to me gave me evidence of the fact that she was fired for wanting to reunite a family. I have had a number of social workers explain to me how the system works and the pressures that are on them, but they are normally unwilling to speak to the media in fear of retailiation against them.

The government claim that the percentage of children leaving care through adoption remains low. However, in calculating this they include in the denominator (for example) the 5,760 children aged over 10 that left care in 2015. Around 60 of the 10-15s were adopted, but realistically that is not going to be an option for the majority of children in that age group.

Hence what the statistics say is that the child protection system has moved over the years in the direction of taking more and more younger children into care and getting them adopted. BASW did warn that adoption targets would stop children returning to their families. However, I don’t think they forsaw the situation we have now today. On an aggregate basis the question remains as to why this is in the best interests of the children.

Feature pic : courtesy of Pelle Sten on Flickr – thanks.