The continuing quest to get to the bottom of performance measurement and target setting about adoption at national, regional and local level.

We have definitely not yet reached the bottom! (Whatever is or is not down there)

This is an update to  Lies, damn lies and statistics:Is the drive to get children out of state care and into adoptive families having an impact on decision making in care proceedings? published on 24 September. (Itself an update to a series of other posts).

You may recall Merton hadn’t replied to to our email of 14 September 2015 asking for clarification of what looked like a possible locally-set target to raise absolute numbers of children adopted from care (which at the very least was creating mistrust and confusion).

And we had decided to make freedom of information requests to explore the wider picture further.

Those FOI requests were duly dispatched on 13th September.

Disappointingly Merton have still not responded to our email (or a second email sent on 5th October asking again).

But on 1st October they did respond to the freedom of information request.

The Merton FOI response

On the matter of what statistical and performance monitoring information they keep such as KPI’s (including but not limited to statutory returns information) they said:

The local authority keeps all of the statutory items of data required to complete the two key Children’s statutory returns to the DfE, namely the Children in Need and Looked After Children censuses.

True. But Merton’s KPI for ‘Children in care adopted or receiving a Special Guardianship Order’ (with what looks like a target figure to raise absolute numbers) isn’t mentioned. As such it seems to be an incomplete or inaccurate FOI response.

On the matter of whether they have received any substantive responses from government departments to their statistical returns (like target setting for their individual performance, financial benefit or penalty for performance etc) Merton said:

We have received no ‘substantive responses’ by the DfE or other government department to any of our statistical returns.

The Merton FOI response is pretty typical of many received so far.

General trends from replies to date

A few authorities have asked us to narrow our questions on the basis of hours or cost.

Most have suggested that they are exempt beyond signposting us to the websites (etc) where information is in the public domain.

Most have not clarified what statistics such as KPI’s (if any) they keep at local level beyond the statutory returns information published on central government websites. They have either not replied adequately or made vague statements such as Merton’s.

Most have also overlooked the question about substantive responses (if any) to their returns from central government, including rewards, sanctions or setting of individual targets etc.

Those who did reply on this said they have never had any substantive responses from any government department to their returns.

A few authorities have provided much fuller responses that answer all the questions asked, in addition to signposting us to information in the public domain.

A small group have forwarded statistics they keep beyond published returns or sent links to where they are published locally.

Next actions

We now plan to refine and narrow our FOI questions to try to progress further and will update again when we can.

[Edit 9.10.2015 AT
Though Merton still haven’t answered the question, there is a suggestion they now intend to. A standard Freedom of Information request acknowledgement saying ‘we aim to reply to all FOI requests within 20 days’ has been sent from Merton in response to our email of 5 October.]