Lots of news about the adoption statistics – for example
Well actually, adoption numbers are broadly rising, though they might dip a bit in 2015 (it is more that everyone expects them to drop considerably in 2016/2017 because less Placement Orders are being made – or are they?)
Adoption orders made
2015 (half year’s figures 3242, so we can guess that the full year will be about 6,500 ish)
I’m not really going to get into the political debate about whether adoption numbers going up is automatically a “good thing” or whether it represents something of a failure, or indeed whether adoption should be as politicised a topic as it has become.
What I wanted to work out was whether Placement Orders (which is the order that a Court makes at the end of care proceedings deciding that adoption is going to be the plan for the child) have gone up or down, and whether the landmark case of Re B-S has had any impact on this.
I’ve been holding off on writing about the adoption statistics, because I was searching for a particular answer that would make sense of it. I’m very grateful to staff in the MoJ statistics department for helping me find it (hello Wincen!)
Right, the Family Court Quarterly stats are here https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/family-court-statistics-quarterly-april-to-june-2015 but what I needed was the raw information from the Family Court tables.
You’d need the Excel spreadsheet programme to look at it, but I’ll do my best to summarise.
The questions that have been in my mind are
“Are less Placement Orders are being made since Re B-S came out? And if so, how many less?”
and if so
“Is that because the applications are being made less often? or because they are being made but turned down? Or both?”
Re B-S came out in Sept 2013, so you’d expect if it was significant to see some sort of dip in 2014, it wouldn’t really affect the 2013 figures.
So, the first question.
Placement Orders made
2011 – 5116
2012 – 6471
2013 – 6242
2014 – 4286
2015 – 2035 (but that is only the figures for Q1 and Q2 – so let’s guess at a yearly figure of twice that, 4070)
Looking at that, then, in the year after Re B-S came out, the number of Placement Orders MADE by the Court dropped by nearly two thousand (1956), or about a THIRD. And that number hasn’t recovered in 2015, it is about the same.
So it would be fair to say that Re B-S has had an impact on the number of Placement Orders being made by the Courts. A decrease of a third is more than a statistical anomaly, there’s something real happening there.
What I haven’t known to this point is whether that is because the Courts have been refusing the applications, or whether the applications were just being made less often. But now I have the raw numbers to share with you all.
Placement Order applications.
2011 – 5821
2012 – 7085
2013 – 7182 (Re B-S came out in sept 2013, so would affect the fourth quarter only)
2014 – 4942
2015 – 2445 (but that is only the figures for Q1 and Q2 – so lets guess at a yearly figure of twice that 4,890)
So again, we can look at the figures and see that in the year after Re B-S, the number of applications made dropped by 2,240, just over a third. And they have remained at that level since.
There seems then quite a strong correlation between the Placement order applications decreasing and the number of orders then decreasing.
Let’s imagine that you are a teenager going out Trick or Treating on Halloween. If you kept count of the number of doors you knocked on each year and how much candy you get each year, and in 2014 and 2015 you knocked on a third less doors and got a third less candy, you’d reach a pretty obvious conclusion.
But does that mean that if you just knocked on a third more doors, you’d get a third more candy? Or had those houses you din’t knock at put up signes saying “no Trick or Treaters”, so you didn’t botherknock at a door if it was clear you’d be wasting your time?
[I’m reminded of a particular Judge who once said to me “Mr Pack, if you keep knocking at an open door, eventually you’ll fall through and break your neck”. And that certainly stopped me knocking at that particular door]
Or in our case, if the number of applications went back up, would the “problem” of declining Placement Orders, which is going to lead in turn to a “problem” decline in adoption numbers go away?
IF there had been six thousand Placement Order applications last year, would the Courts would have made roughly six thousand in line with previous years , or whether they would have made roughly four thousand ? (i.e were there a third less orders only because LA’s lost their nerve, or were LA’s correctly judging that the applications would be refused and presenting alternatives?)
Really hard to say. I guess what might give us some form of clue is looking at the proportion of successful applications. These aren’t exactly like for like, because of course a Placement Order application made in December 2013 might get decided in 2014’s stats, but it probably roughly balances itself out over a year.
So what proportion of Placement Order applications were turned down each year?
Gap between applications and orders
In 2011 – 705 about 12%
In 2012 – 614 about 9%
In 2013 – 940 about 13%
In 2014 – 656 about 13%
In 2015 – 820 about 17% [the 2015 stats are least reliable, since they don’t have the full year to even out the flow and balance out that 2015’s final decisions include some 2014 applications]
It doesn’t look like the Courts are turning down a higher proportion of applications, so initially, you think that the LA’s have just lost their nerve.
But hold on.
And if you can’t hold on.
[By the way, isn’t Brandon Flowers the worst person to ask for advice ? Brandon, my problem is that I can’t hold on. Okay, well you should hold on. But Brandon, I can’t hold on. Ah, well you should hold on then. Thanks Brandon]
Remember that the number of applications MADE went down by a third, but the rate of applications that were refused stayed about the same. Now surely the one third of applications that would have been made that the LA didn’t instead issue are their weakest cases – they should have been winnowing out the weak cases that were likely to be turned down and only presenting the strongest ones.
But even having done the exercise of trying to throw out the weakest cases and only make Placement Order applications when they felt confident or semi-confident about persuading a Court that “nothing else will do”, the Court was turning down about 13% of the applications – about the same as when the applications were a mixed bag of weak cases, middling cases and strong cases.
That suggests, but I can’t be sure because the numbers only tell you so much , that IF the LA’s had made six thousand applications in 2014 and were going to make six thousand applications in 2015, that the number of Placement Orders wouldn’t necessarily return to 2013 levels – we might well have just had more marked results in the proportion of unsuccessful applications.
We can only really find out if the number of applications go up and we see whether we return to 2013 levels of Placement Orders, or whether the rate of unsuccessful applications go up. (I seem to have argued myself into supporting Sir Martin Narey’s original suggestion that LA’s should just hold their nerve and go back to making the same level of applications – which I so fervently disagreed with at the time. I still think that what would happen is that the rate of refused applications would go up, but I really can’t be sure either way)
Or maybe I’m just a blockhead.