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The Adoption statistics

The Government have published their statistics (there’s a time delay, so these are the stats up to Autumn 2014)


I suspect that the headline one  (which prompted all of those press releases in late April) is going to be this:-



Quarterly data suggests that the number of new decisions has continued to fall from 1,830 in quarter 2 2013-14 to 910 in quarter 3 2014-15, a decrease of 50%. The number of new placement orders have also continued to fall from 1,550 in quarter 2 2013-14 to 740 in quarter 3 2014-15, a decrease of 52%.



What they don’t have, is a measure of how many cases LA’s put before an Agency Decision Maker, so we can’t tell whether


  • Social workers were asking ADM’s for adoption approval less often, so less cases were approved
  • ADM’s were refusing a higher proportion of requests than previously, so less cases were approved
  • A combination of those factors  (which if so, would lead to even more of a drop – if social workers were only giving their ‘best’ cases for adoption to the ADM, but they were being knocked back, then you’d expect less and less cases to go to the ADM)


[And of course, what underpins all of that is whether social workers / ADMs were being overly cautious about the case law and not asking for adoption in cases where the Court would actually have made Placement Orders, or whether they were being realistic and knowing that if they asked for adoption they wouldn’t be capable of satisfying their Court that the tests were met]



What really fits is the increase stats on Special Guardianship Orders  – I haven’t seen the raw data, but the BBC claim this has tripled since 2012 (BS cough cough)


When you look at the graph showing Agency Decision Maker decisions that adoption should be the plan for the child over time, you can see the numbers drop off a cliff at the time of the Supreme Court decision in Re B (nothing else will do).


You can argue (and it is a legitimate argument, where Re B and Re B-S were a new test, or a nudge in the ribs to apply the existing tests with proper rigour, and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing) but you can’t really argue as the current official narrative has it, that this isn’t even a thing. The graphs make it really obvious.

The quarter BEFORE Re B-S, 1830 decisions by ADMs that adoption was the right plan for the child. Re B-S hit in September 2013, so it would be the third quarter of 2013 when ADM’s would have known about it. Those numbers, 1290.  It is the sharpest drop of the entire graph.  It has continued to slope downwards since then, but the bit in the graph that looks like abseiling down the Eiger is Re B-S. You absolutely can’t dispute it.

The Myth-Buster document was published in December 2014, so we can’t see from the stats and graph whether that has led to a reversal of the pattern in the graph. We’ll see that in about six months, I suppose. Similarly, whether the Court of Appeal’s softening of position on “nothing else will do” translates into an increase in ADM decisions that adoption is the plan.


[Cynically, I doubt it. I’m well aware that I am not a normal human being in my interest in case law, and I haven’t always had it. For about my first five years in child protection law, you could get by on three cases  Re G (interim care is a deep freeze affording no tactical advantage), H and R  (the nature of the allegation doesn’t increase the standard of proof) and whatever at the time was the law on residential assessments.  Re B and Re B-S, with their hard-hitting message and backed by a soundbite ‘nothing else will do’ resonate with people much more than the inching back, case specific, deeply nuanced and incremental Court of Appeal cases since that time.  Even the Re R case  that was intended to slay the Re B-S myths is so nuanced that it takes nine or ten reads to have a grasp of what it is actually saying, and almost the day after you’ve done that, you couldn’t actually put it into a meaningful summary sentence]



[I argued before HERE  that the Press narrative that the case law will mean ‘children suffering in unsuitable and unsafe homes’ is an emotive over-simplification. I’d stand by that. At the moment, the case law on adoption has been going through its most radical changes in a generation, and it is certainly less predictable than it has ever been to decide what sort of case will result in a Placement Order and what won’t.  We are in a period of re-balancing. I don’t know yet whether these figures show that we have found the right level of those cases where adoption IS the right plan to put before the Court, whether there are even more drops to come, or whether there’s an over-reaction to it.   I have a suspicion, given that the entire history of child protection and family justice is about lurches from child rescue to family preservation and vice versa, and an eventual settling down at one particular side of the scale but hopefully not at the absolute far end of the scale…]


Given the huge push to recruit adopters – all the Government policies about making it easier, less time-consuming, less intrusive, more appealing , this statistic may get less attention but must be concerning


Registrations to become an adopter have decreased by 24% from 1,340 in quarter 2 2014-15 to 1,020 in quarter 3 2014-15. The number of adopter families approved for adoption has decreased by 3% from 1,240 in quarter 2 2014-15 to 1,200 in quarter 3 2014-15.



We will wait to see how the Court decisions that moved children from prospective adopters to the birth family (which is a completely new phenomenon, having not occurred at all prior to December 2014) has on adoption recruitment and retention.



The backlog (which had stood at 1 approved adopter for every 3 children approved for adoption) has been nearly cleared.


Our most recent estimate for the “adopter gap” suggests that the gap has closed, and we now have more adopters than children waiting. However, there are still 2,600 children with a placement order not yet matched and the relevance of this measure assumes that matching is working effectively.



The number of adoption ORDERS made is, they claim the highest since recording began


3,740 children adopted in quarters 1 to 3 2014-15

2013-14 saw the highest number of adoptions from care since the current data collection began in 1992, with 5,050 children adopted from care.



When I have looked at Court stats on adoption   5050 looks like a pretty average year, with there having been figures nearly 50 per cent higher in the earlier 1990s.   (Now, it may be that the measure that is being used here is “Adoption of children who are in care” and that the Office of National Statistics figure bundles that in with ‘step-parent adoptions’,  so it is not a like-for-like comparison)




Finally, this statistic initially looks positive (how long does it take between a child coming into care and a child being placed for adoption  – you’d WANT that number to go down, since whether you want more or less children being adopted, most of us could agree that we wouldn’t want children to wait so long for a family to be found)


In 2013-14, the average number of days between entering care and placement was 594 days, an improvement from 656 days in 2012-13. Latest quarterly data suggests there has been a further improvement to 533 days. At 216 days, the average number of days between placement order and match in 2013-14 was a slight improvement on 2012-13. However, the latest quarterly data suggests that this has increased to 241 during quarter 3 2014-15.



The closer inspection is this :-


That since the 2012 figures, there has been legislation and huge resources expended on bringing care proceedings down from what was an average of 55 weeks to a target of 26 weeks.  That OUGHT to have had far more of an impact than 60 days being shaved off the time between entering care and a family being found.  It should be something more like a saving of 200 days. As the time from Placement Order to placement had gone slightly down (but was now going back up), that SUGGESTS that IF there is a saving of 30 weeks from start of care proceedings to Placement Order, but it results in only a time saving of 8 ½ weeks,  that there’s about 20 weeks unaccounted for.


Does that mean that :-


  • Whilst average time of care proceedings has gone down, it hasn’t gone down as MUCH for cases where adoption is the plan?  (That makes sense, as those are the ones that are most contentious and where all avenues tend to be exhausted?)
  • There’s been an increase in the time that children who go on to be adopted are spending in care PRIOR to care proceedings?  That “front-loading” element.



I don’t know how or if statistics on those issues are being kept.  It must be problematic that if we are compressing the time that care proceedings take, with all that involves, but barely reducing the time that a child waits between coming into care and a new family being found, have we really improved anything for the child?   (Note particularly that with the latest quarterly data, HALF the time that has been cut appears to have been lost by an increase in the family finding process.  216 days of family finding and matching post Placement Order equates to 30 weeks)



The notional 200 day saving from faster care proceedings isn’t turning into a real saving, and that feels counter-intuitive. What we’ve been told for years is that if decisions about children are made by the Courts quicker, the children will be easier to place  – they will be younger and have less issues (and thus, you’d assume, faster to place).


About suesspiciousminds

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

18 responses

  1. Ashamed to be British

    Or is it that the Barren women out there are receiving IVF on the NHS?

    It’s easier, better, advanced, perhaps, just perhaps they don’t have to fill that hole with someone else’s child, which is a good thing imo, that only leaves the adopters who really are adopting for the sake of the child, instead of a need to fill their empty lives through selfish means

    • I’m sure that over a long period, the existence of IVF and other treatments has had an impact on the numbers of people who want to adopt.

      I’d be rather surprised if IVF take-up had increased by 24% in a quarter to account for that drop though. (I’d be less surprised if people who were thinking about adoption and had read up on how uncertain and subject to Court litigation it currently is were instead thinking that international surrogacy might be a better route to bringing a child into their family)

      • Adopters are 95% heterosexual couples who have exhausted all other avenues of having children. There are some adopters for whom adoption is a first choice and a positive choice but altruistic adoption (which is what we call that) is rare. Fertility treatments change all the time, and there might be an increase in effectiveness or take up, but that doesn’t really alter the fact that all adopters are asked to complete that exhaustive process to the point they wish to before being assessed.

        As well as other matters such as safeguarding and parenting capacity, the adoption assessment is a complex assessment of whether those who have experienced that grief and loss of being unable to have their own children, are those who can parent children who have experienced their own separation from birth families. Adoption generally isn’t what adopters think it is when they make that first call, you would be surprised how many are thinking of orphaned babies, some aren’t of course, but it takes a while to adjust.

        The assessment and prep process are a journey that adopters often slow up now because it is too pacey for that emotive an experience which is why that assessment period doesn’t hold up well to being sped up. I won’t defend social workers who don’t work hard enough, but a number of adopters ask to go on hold now at the end of the assessment process because they aren’t ready, rather than any delay being down to lazy bureaucratic public servants…

      • Oh yes, the process is a really exhaustive one, and can be really emotionally challenging. I don’t think that anyone goes into it lightly. Good point, well made, Helen.

      • My main thing is that IVF doesn’t appear to affect the number of people who wish to adopt in any way which is statistically significant. Sorry waffled on a bit after that…

      • An experienced Guardian told me that her experience is that IVF treatment is emotionally damaging and makes it harder for people to adjust to the idea of adoption. She said that when she started, if a couple hadn’t conceived after a few years they would then think about adoption. Now they go through expensive and emotionally draining cycles of IVF treatment and are often not emotionally robust enough to then switch to considering the needs of a child who has suffered harm.

      • Ashamed to be British

        I can understand that, the hope of carrying a baby dashed … Taking on someone else’s birth child is a different matter, is it a selfish need to fill that hole?

      • AshamedToBeBritish:

        In response to your:

        “Taking on someone else’s birth child is a different matter, is it a selfish need to fill that hole?”,

        I can tell you that in our case it was to offer two brothers, one very cute, the other with brain damage, a chance to stay together in the stability of a loving home. The alternative was for them to be split up, one to be adopted, the other to go to long term fostercare. Given the abuse they had suffered, return to the parents was never going to be an option.

        As foster carers it would have been financially better for us to just provide long term fostering for the child who was not going to be adopted, but we could not countenance the split.

        But then again, you’d probably say my opinion as a “child thief” should probably be discounted anyway.

      • Ashamed to be British

        Not at all, why would you say that, other than you not having read everything I wrote.

        It was a question, and imo, if the children really were abused to the point of no return to the parents (I’m not talking mickey mouse social work lies and targets here, I’m talking, they should never have children) then why shouldn’t they have a lasting happy family life.

        To quote myself, just in case you did miss what I said

        “that only leaves the adopters who really are adopting for the sake of the child”

  2. I wonder whether the drop in the number of placement orders made at the time of Re B-S is to do with cases being successfully opposed because of interpretations of that new case law (rather than it all being down to the ADMs and LAs feeling under pressure).

    I also wonder whether the drop in the numbers generally is to do with the ‘settling in’ of the new timescales for proceedings. Most cases were running over 26 weeks – then the new timescales were introduced; the old cases were still concluding whilst the more recent applications were (comparatively) zipping through, leading to apparently large numbers which have now tailed off now that the ‘old’ cases have been pretty much finalised. On this model, steadier figures should follow.

    • I agree about the timing of 26 weeks being introduced. There was a spike in proceedings and adoption which coincide exactly as you say and let to inflated numbers.

    • Could be. The headline figures here, of the drop of 50% since BS are of decisions made by a Local Authority that adoption was the plan. Of course, it is really hard to know how much of that was social workers or ADMs having a genuine shift in what cases they thought were right for adoption, and how much were ‘we know this won’t convince a court any more’. I think that we probably will get steadier figures (probably even a spike upwards) in the next batch, but that we might see an even bigger drop off in the numbers of people wanting to be approved for adoption.

      • It is probably also worth adding that there is a massive mismatch between the children adopters are interested in and the children who are waiting for adoption. Assessment is not a cost free exercise, think it runs in the region of £30k once you factor in all the hidden costs like pensions, office buildings etc. Recruitment is always strategic and usually a strategy worked out by a group of LAs working together (like the government just asked them to but they already do… ).

        At a time of cuts, LAs are generally now only recruiting the adopters who are needed for the children who are waiting. This does shift over time of course but the 0 – 3 year old girl who is very easy to place (don’t ask me why it is girls not boys – does my head in!) will already have numerous potential matches so any adopters with that specific a match in mind will be asked to try somewhere else. Hence the fall in registration of adopters, they are being turned away rather than not being interested. Implying there was a backlog of adopters is to negate the expertise around matching which results in so few adoption disruptions

        I don’t doubt that the recent court action re children who have been placed with adopters will also have an impact, how much it remains to be seen, but as much empathy as I have with adopters and however much compassion, it should always be the adults taking the emotional risk and maybe more adoptions should be run along the lines of concurrent planning/foster to adopt. This is new so it takes some thinking about but transparency for adopters would enable them to make that choice and some still would. They are (in the main) the same people who did all those rounds of IVF and took those risks after all.

      • Another splendid point Helen – there is a mismatch between what prospective adopters want and the children who are waiting. I hadn’t thought about LA’s turning adopters away if they have nothing in the group that they are looking for (all LA’s that I’ve worked at would have been taking them because there would be more children of that age range coming up, but I can believe that it happens elsewhere, or that prospective adopters being told that there would be a 2 year waiting list for a baby girl might pull out)

        Having said that, it was only about two years ago that LA’s were struggling to find adopters even for 0-2 year old girls (which have always been the easiest group to place), and that is (anecdotally) not seeming to be the case any more.

  3. Pingback: So, what IS the explanation for the huge drop in adoption decisions? | suesspiciousminds

  4. It would be good if the fall in numbers of children were the result of families being supported to remain together with early intervention, preventative services, and interventions like the FDAC. In the main they are not because those services don’t exist in a world of cuts and austerity. The outcome of that is that families who might otherwise not, hit crisis. There is still a political narrative which attributes falling numbers of children to LAs not working effectively to the adoption reforms, this makes a privatisation agenda look rational but doesn’t reflect reality. You rightly identify that Narey’s myth busting document didn’t really bust any myths, and subsequent judgements to Re B-S haven’t really clarified anything for anyone if you need to read them repeatedly and revisit.

    I think there is a perfect storm created by of political ideology + the PLO + Adoption Reforms + managerialism in social work + cuts + austerity = it all beginning to look a bit like eugenics rather than social justice. It is right and proper that there is a debate around non-consensual adoption and Re B-S et al. really sounded like the judiciary saying to the legislature, hold on a minute, what about the small matter of human rights. I would suggest there is a shared responsibility to this as well as a cyclical change in child protection and that rather than it being one particular factor it is many shared by all the actors.

    The reality is that however clear Munby may think he has been, nobody else is, for whatever reasons, and it is highly probably that decisions are being made about placements for children which are not robust enough. Robust enough should be the measure btw, not “good enough” the advantages of being placed within your family of origin don’t negate the needs of the child for über parenting because they have been separated from birth parents. Like many social workers, I would be happy if some of the kinship/SGO placements being agreed were more robust because my fear is that we are failing children who will return to the care of the state more traumatised if only by failed attachments.

    Our other fear is of course that children will be harmed, it would sub judice and anyway anecdotal to mention cases which fuel that fear, but I understand the rate of NAIs has risen in line with the rise in SGOs.

  5. It is to save cost. All LAs’ have little or no Funding and the expenditure is not feasible. Tney now realizes that Family is BEST to care for their LOVED ONES and this protects Article: 8 of the ECHR as well. So, the UK will not have to pay out huge sums to Families after a successful ECHR Claim.

  6. Pingback: The Adoption statistics | Children In Law | Sc...

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