The Prime Minister wants you to think about babies. Specifically, babies that are not yours. In National Adoption Week, David Cameron has been all over the media pulling at heart strings, telling us of the appalling figures relating to adoption, and telling us he dreams of:
‘a real culture change to be more pro-adoption. For many children it is the right answer’.
The Daily Mail (natch) and most of the papers fell for the guff he has been spouting, but some of us are more cynical. And know how to wade through statistical bullshit, whilst also recognising that the reason the Prime Minister is concerned about adoption is because it is cheap.
If kids in care aren’t adopted, they remain in care, and that costs a small at-least-six-figure-each fortune per year, whereas adoption has no ongoing costs to government at all. Oh, wait, I forgot, there is child benefit. That is, the princely sum of £20.30 for the first child, and £13.40 for each one thereafter, per week.
Starting with the stats, on the face of it they are appalling, and if they were the whole picture, the reaction in some quarters of the press would be bang on. If they were.
Apparently, in the year ending 31.3.11 there were 65,520* ‘looked after’ children. Of those, 3,050 were adopted, which works out at 4.65%. Sixty of those were under one – 0.09% of the overall total. 2170 were aged 1-4 – 3.31% of the overall total.
Firstly, the 65,520 figure is not the number of children who became looked after in the year ending 31.3.11. Rather, it is the cumulative total of all children looked after.
Secondly, it overlooks the total number of children who left care for reasons other than adoption, which in that timeframe was 26,830. Therefore when talking about the adoption figures in the context of the number of looked after children, we should be using a figure of 38,690, as that was the number of looked after children left, taking all care leavers into account. That means that as a percentage of the children who ceased being looked after, adoptions actually accounted for 11.37%.
Thirdly, not all ‘looked after’ children are a) legally available for adoption or b) capable of being adopted.
A ‘looked after’ child is one who is either
- accommodated voluntarily (i.e. with parental consent and not subject to an order);
- subject to an interim care order (proceedings are progressing but are not yet finalised);
- subject to a care order (proceedings have finished);
- subject to a care order where a placement order has been made.
Only children who are subject to care orders where a placement order has been made are legally available for adoption.
It is not easy to see from the available figures what the numbers of children legally available for adoption are, but the numbers of children who are not legally available for adoption in the remaining 38,690 will not be insignificant.
Then we turn to the biggy. The children who are not capable of being adopted. The children who the readers of newspapers do not know exist, and the children who politicians have no desire to educate anyone about, even when bleating and hang wringing.
These kids could only aspire to be the ‘feral youth’ the government told us existed during the rioting in the summer. They are forgotten, uncared about and written off before puberty, never mind adulthood.
Kids who end up adopted are care kids. Care kids are abused kids. Lose the romanticised image of kids who are adopted being pink, plump, perfect swaddled babies, given up voluntarily by parents who recognise they can’t look after them, wishing for a better life for them.
These are kids who, if lucky, have ‘only’ been neglected. Kids who come from neglect are largely the ones who require the least work to get them to a stage where they don’t frighten prospective adopters. Affordable work, that doesn’t take too long, so they get it quickly. They will be a large proportion of the 3,050 who were adopted.
The kids who have been subjected to emotional, physical or sexual abuse? Well, they are pretty much written off. Of course, the overall plan is for adoption – to achieve a new family and stability for them is on everyone’s wish list. But when their method of demonstrating they are in pain and need help is smearing faeces on the wall, or destroying anything they come into contact with, or lashing out at younger children, well, they are pretty hard to place. And they require a lot of work, usually long term. Which costs money. More money than most local authorities can afford.
So they don’t get placed. If they are lucky they may get some of the work the experts identified for them before they leave care. If not? Well, eventually they hit 10. When they act out at 10, the local authority start calling the police, and the kids eventually end up going through the criminal process, and that is it. Game over: let the new cycle begin – that of offending, substance abuse, having kids of their own that are taken into care.
The government’s answer? They are going to force every local authority to publish:
- How many children get adopted;
- How long it takes to get adopted;
- How successful their foster care placements are;
- How well they do at school.
Great. Can you see in that list ‘more money for the necessary theraputic work to ensure more children are capable of being adopted’? No, me either. But hey, we’ll get some numbers, the Daily Mail can be outraged at ‘failing’ authorities, and the government can wring their collective hands a bit more. Oh and protip: the ‘failing’ authorities will be the most deprived authorities – the ones who take more kids into care due to child abuse and the correlation with substance abuse and deprivation, and have the least money to get them adoption ready.
One of two things will happen. Local authorities will resign themselves to be deemed as ‘failing’; unable to fight the government PR machine. Or, they will place children with unprepared, unsuitable adopters. Folk whose hearts are in the right place, but not able to cope with the reality of a care kid. Then the adoption will break down, and we end up with an absolutely broken child, back on the care scrapheap.
So, when Mr Cameron tells you of his horror at the 4.65% of children who are adopted, ask him about the 95.35%. They are the ones who we should be very concerned about.
*Figures from the Guardian