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“As a drunkard uses a lamppost…”


 A discussion of the new CAFCASS figures on care proceedings issued by Local Authority area. Warning, contains maths, guesswork and ranting.


“He uses statistics as a drunkard uses a lamppost – not for illumination, but for support”   – Winston Churchill


 They are interesting though, as the very least, they show up the real differences from area to area of the country. Some of that isn’t terribly surprising, one would not be shocked, for example that inner cities have higher rates of care proceedings than say Saffron Walden.  But there does seem to be quite a lot of variance even taking into account that different authorities have different social problems

 One might be surprised, for example, to see that Hackney have a lower number of care proceedings per 10,000 children than those notorious hot-beds of poverty, erm Kensington and Westminster.  Or indeed that Hackney’s figures on care proceedings per 10,000 children are now twice as high as they were in the 2008 post Baby P spike. Am scratching my head about that one.

 What is also, of course interesting, is looking at an authority and comparing it to its neighbours.  And also, as a long standing local authority locum lawyer, I can also use the chart as a handy guide to where I haven’t worked yet, and which authorities I’d probably be bored stiff in   (I won’t be taking a job in the Isles of Scilly any time soon, based on this chart)

 It isn’t terribly surprising that overall, one can see a big spike post Baby P  (that’s due in part to the increased referrals, in part to the greater willingness of local authorities to take action, in part due to a reluctance to manage risks at home that might previously have been managed, and in part due to the numbers having been artificially depressed by the double whammy of the PLO and the jacking up of court fees)

 Although 13 of the 94 authorities didn’t get this spike, they actually issued on a SMALLER proportion in the year post Baby P – including Hackney.

 You can also see that whilst a number of authorities have seen that spike settle down and decrease (though not back to pre Baby P levels) the overall trend is still increasing, from an average of 6 proceedings  per 10,000 children pre Baby P, to 8 the year after, to 9.7 in 2012/13.   And quite a few authorities are issuing MORE proceedings per 10,000 children than they were in the year post Baby P.

 [One should also bear in mind that most proceedings involve more than one child, so the actual number of CHILDREN subject to care proceedings per 10,000 children is higher than 9.7, how much higher is hard to say. I’d guess that the AVERAGE number of children per care proceedings is about 1.5 – you get a lot of babies, but also a lot of large sibling groups]


As the other CAFCASS stats show

 April 2013’s figures were 20% higher than April 2012’s  (which were themselves already a high base)

 And February 2013 hit 999 applications, the highest for any month ever.  (and bear in mind that February is a short month, and it is not historically one of the spike months – which are normally coinciding with imminent long school holidays, so June/July and Christmas period)

 On my guess, those 999 applications represent 1,500 children.

 And between March 2012 and April 2013, CAFCASS received 11,064 applications   (or on my guess, 16,000-17,000 children were made the subject of care proceedings in that year)

 This all makes me a little nervous  – because when you look at the national figures for adoption recruitment, the English authorities approved 2655 adopters in the whole of last year.’Map C’!A1


Now of course, not all of the children who came into proceedings need to be adopted – one hopes that MOST of them stay with mum and dad, some more are placed with family members, some of them will be too old to be adopted even if they can’t be placed with family members. So the 16,000 children is a MUCH MUCH higher figure than the children who need adoptive placements as a result of coming into care proceedings – I don’t have any hard data to extrapolate that. *

 *[Other than the same Government adoption stats that showed 2655 adopters approved in 2012, showed 5750 children waiting for adoptive placements, which I’ve written about previously. But that doesn’t tell me how many of those children had been identified as needing a placement THAT year  ]

 That might be one of those pieces of management information that Norgrove identified as being lacking in the family justice system – what are the outcomes for children who come into the public law Court arena?   Would be much better to have some proper hard and fast statistical analysis, rather than my hamfisted bungling. 

 [By the same token, it seems to me utterly ludicrous that we have figures on the number of CASES, when what we want to know, what we actually care about, surely is the number of CHILDREN?  ]

 But it does seem to me, that there’s serious potential for more children to be coming into the State system than the State has resources to deal with. There are, of course, three ways of tackling that problem (if indeed it is a problem). Reduce the number of children who come IN to care proceedings, reduce the number who come OUT needing placements outside of families, and increase the number of adopters who can meet the need where the Court have made that serious decision. 

 I am in some doubt as to whether the Family Justice Review changes are going to reduce the numbers of children coming IN, or the numbers coming OUT. 

 Of course, I could quite easily be wrong, and just be a pessimist clutching at lampposts in the absence of straws.


About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

4 responses

  1. As ever an interesting read; however, the figures on the CAFCASS link contain an error. The totals in their table for 2012/13 is incorrect, they appear to have missed out the figures for March from the overall total (must be my inner statistician that let me spot it 🙂 ) .

  2. The figures puzzle me too. Birmingham seem low compared to neighbours – surely not just about family size? Seems crazy that there can be such disparity between authorities all working to the same legislation and guidance ?!

    • I can’t comment on Birmingham specifically, but yes, it was one of a number of areas that I expected (knowing the social problems in that area) too have higher proportions.

      One of the underlying causes, and some might argue inherent problems, is that whilst we have reams of case law unpicking every single word in the “threshold criteria” (see one of my very first posts) we don’t REALLY from a social work and parental side of things have absolute certainty on what crosses it and what doesn’t. There’s an element of subjectivity to it, so that what meets threshold ends up being not so much what all that case law says, but what in the minds of your Judges crosses it and what doesn’t. And then, there’s no absolute certainty on what a Local Authority will DO if threshold is crossed – some will issue, some will work longer with the family, some will close the case and hope for the best.

      That produces geographical disparities, and undoubtedly a degree of unfairness. You could, I suspect, treat your children in a way that would land you in care proceedings in one Local Authority, that would not in another. That’s probably a societal argument for absolute transparency and clear, easy to understand guidance on what is not acceptable as a parent, those things that should result in care proceedings being available for all to see, understand and where necessary to debate.

      The counter argument there is that rigidity, and precision inevitably misses some fresh new horrors AND robs professionals of being able to make judgments knowing the individual family. And that even starting to write such a prescriptive document becomes impossible or cumbersome very fast. Even on something like “Is it okay for a parent to use heroin whilst a child is in their care?” becomes riddled with caveats and exceptions.

      It’s a tough one.

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