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Good grief, Charlie Brown. Can I make sense of adoption statistics?

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

2011  4709

2012 5260

2013 6078

2014 6750

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  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.


"I got a rock"

“I got a rock”


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.

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.







About suesspiciousminds

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

18 responses

  1. Andrew are those stats for po applications from table 13?? I thought that those were all ACA applications and hence included eg adoption and revocation apps too?
    Could you clarify where those figures are from please? Lucy

    • Hi Lucy – yes, table 13. If you move further to the right (political message there) of the tables, you can see where the numbers are broken down into Placement Order applications. I’d always struggled to find it, but it is there.

  2. Shall I do a long and dithering post….*Foot Tapping* – *Fingers Cracking* I think a medium dithering post is in order….

    “I did not have any accurate numbers so I just made these up, studies have shown that accurate numbers aren’t any more useful than the ones you make up, how many studies said that, erm 87”

    I am all too aware for the want and worth of number crunching and none more so prevalent as the adoption statistics, I do seldom wonder if, when working out the outside forces to reductions or increases in such numbers we simply look for an easy cause for the differential in the facts and figures, do we always have to blame someone or something?

    While one can argue that Re. B-S played its part in bringing the process down to earth with a bang I would say it was not the key factor in causing any strong reduction, it simply made the process more thoughtful and thorough, it made sure that last stone on the driveway was turned over and to repeat a quote from my area’s DFJ at a FJC meeting in Jan 2014 it was simply “Business as usual” albeit with a bit more thought in the processes.

    I find it very hard to grasp why there is such a “public” outcry when say, adoption figures fall, I cannot be the only one who sees this as a good thing, I see it as child care cases are given their very best to ensure the correct decisions are made, could it be that child neglect is being tackled the right way and while there will always be cases of child neglect, its impossible to eradicate, is child neglect still as prevalent as days of yore or has society finally caught up with some of the famous passages from those Judgments of yore,

    Quoting the infamous paragraph 50 from Sir Mark Hedley’s 2007 Judgment –

    “Hedley J. in Re: L (Care: Threshold Criteria) [2007] 1 F.L.R. 2050:

    “What about the court’s approach, in the light of all that, to the issue of significant harm? In order to understand this concept and the range of harm that it’s intended to encompass, it is right to begin with issues of policy. Basically it is the tradition of the UK, recognised in law, that children are best brought up within natural families. Lord Templeman, in Re KD (A Minor: Ward) (Termination of Access) [1988] 1 AC 806, [1988] 2 FLR 139, at 812 and 141 respectively, said this:

    ‘The best person to bring up a child is the natural parent. It matters not whether the parent is wise or foolish, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, provided the child’s moral and physical health are not in danger. Public authorities cannot improve on nature.’

    There are those who may regard that last sentence as controversial but undoubtedly it represents the present state of the law in determining the starting point. It follows inexorably from that, that society must be willing to tolerate very diverse standards of parenting, including the eccentric, the barely adequate and the inconsistent. It follows too that children will inevitably have both very different experiences of parenting and very unequal consequences flowing from it. It means that some children will experience disadvantage and harm, while others flourish in atmospheres of loving security and emotional stability. These are the consequences of our fallible humanity and it is not the provenance of the state to spare children all the consequences of defective parenting. In any event, it simply could not be done””.

    If society has become more tolerant then that will most certainly have an impact on the facts and figures, if we tie in Re-BS to that then we are seeing the reductions in Adoption applications as a positive step to keeping families together, is that so wrong? why are charities up in arms about the reduction, why has Sir Martin Narey’s drive for adoption not had the desired effect.

    I look at figures differently from practitioners because of my case work, I have seen some Local Authorities change their approach back to family preservation and I will add I have seen some changes by Local Authorities from preservation to the role of protection and removal, in which they may not have done so much in the past, up until about the latter part of 2013 I would not be asked to help with adoption cases South of the River, I was called to assist more in the Northern quarters with adoption matters, the requests for hep are still here up North but the matters I assist with have changed, where as what I see is a marked increase with the Southern Counties being the opposite, the focus seems to be adoption driven, I could say the North/South divide has swapped roles, I know I could not possible use my own experiences as a tool to work out figures, given time thought I could probably map the significant shift I have seen.

    I had a trip down nostalgia avenue today given it was 8 years to the day I worked with Sir Trevor McDonald for his Tonight Program, it was about the CP system in general and also highlighted two cases of Fran Lloyn and the Websters from 2006/7, I have looked to the then’s v the now’s and I do not realistically see any changes, Adoptions are still occurring albeit how they are approached differs, although there is somewhat of a flat line with them, give or take the odd hundred either way, there are still questionable cases of poor judgment still happen although not as prevalent as it was back in 2007, the only changes I have seen is the fact we debate these very subjects more openly, back in 2007 it was what some could call a taboo topic, even the feed back from the ITV program showed that the public perception was taboo.

    So in closing your honour, I would simply add that child protection cases have risen to a 30 yr high apparently, however, the actual annual figure for looked after children remains stagnant, depending on the source its usually between 64,000 and 67,000, no matter the year, we are debating the adoption figures, the differentials of the ups and downs and looking for reasons, can we give an honest reason for the reported “Drop” I am not sure we can,

    It should not be brushed over either that while we faced the surge in need for adoption by numerous heads of government departments, very little was given in tackling the shortage of adoption places and families, same could be said about foster placements too, again another factor I feel is missed when analysing the figures, has society or the more openness of debates of the once taboo topic played its part in causing a hurdle in people coming forwards to adopt or foster.

  3. Parents, MKF’s and judges are getting more clued up to the rush to adopt by the LA’s, so so many cases have been to the COA only to find the families have been lied about, manipulated and blackmailed into all sorts (signing sec 20’s in particular)

    We also have the secrecy starting to slowly be taken out of judgements, with LA’s being able to be named, even social woprkers suspended or sacked

    Then you have social media, where knowledge is shared and people help those parents completely lost in the system, television shows, documentaries, radio shows are following injustices

    Parents are fighting back, courts are recognising the LA’s aren’t always as honest as they should be, imo, people power, is what slows down an agenda

  4. Pingback: Adoption Statistics | Child Protection Resource

  5. Thanks Andrew for these useful statistics. I see that between 2011 and 2014 the number of adoptions in England and Wales went up by 43%. Obviously this was in response to the shift in government policy in 2011 (Martin Narey was Adoption Czar between 2011 and 2013). It now appears that numbers have peaked and will probably continue at more or less the same level. In other words, social workers have become more decisive in their approach and are intervening earlier and this is not going to change.

    As for the statistics about changes in the number of Placement Orders … this is harder to interpret but I’ll try … Some of this seems to be about the problems arising when the pendulum swings ‘like a pendulum do’. The effect of Re: BS was to bring about a correction after the swing to adoption had gone too far. It seems that Children’s services are striking the right balance but they still need to go further in raising standards of social work practice.

    If about five in every six Placement Order applications result in the order being made, it suggests that in one in six cases, or 16% of these cases, social workers have done something wrong. This figure remains stable and the court is right to stop these cases proceeding to adoption (if this is what happens). However, we cannot know whether the outcome would have been different if these particular cases had been managed better.

    Perhaps a certain amount of fallibility is inevitable? Social workers are only human and courts are simply doing their job of scrutinising social work practice.

    • Yes, whilst it is very easy to get all hand-wringing about the number of Placement Orders refused, by simply shifting the perspective to see that a parent has about a 1 in 6 chance of successfully fighting a Placement Order application it doesn’t seem very high at all. I do think that you can have a Placement Order application refused without any bad social work practice – it is more that the Courts have the opportunity to see and test all of the evidence and sometimes they just feel that there’s a better option or a less drastic one.

  6. Local authority adoption worker

    Do you think that part of the explanation for the rise and subsequent drop in Placement Orders being made is to do with the imposition of the 26 weeks limit on Care Proceedings? In 2011 the average length of proceedings was about a year. When the 26 weeks limit was imposed, it then there should be a spike in the number of cases concluding, until the system adjusts to the new timescale?

    • Yes, I’d expect that there had been a spike in the numbers of cases being concluded. And also the pace of proceedings certainly affects both the likely outcome (less time for a parent to make changes is likely to result in less change) and the quality of the evidence placed before the Court since there is less time to write it and conduct the assessments.

      • I agree with this, suspecting Re B-S and the PLO created a perfect storm, which I’ve said before, particularly around the backlog of cases this would have included. As for now, as has been said on this blog before, there aren’t generally cases in court where a judge is asking LAs to include/consider adoption on a plan which doesn’t.

        The government’s focus on adoption and its targets isn’t that helpful in terms of interpreting any trends. It was a political ideology but mostly because they think LAs are all clunky bureaucrats (the process is too fast for most adopters now who often want a break between the stages to ensure they are ready). I would almost say the way the focus has been managed in LAs is probably in much the same way the NHS responds to waiting times, they find a way to circumnavigate. LAs work on moving the children for whom adoption is a preferred option within the timescales but continue to work with other families in all the ways you would expect in terms of services, support and protection.

        Child protection work is very much about how children can be safe at home and then if not a rippling out towards adoption, it is rarely the preferred option except when it has to be for all the reasons we know about. Given the calls LAs receive from health and education regarding concerns, i would say that social workers are in the main with Hedley on the vagaries of family life.

  7. All this jiggery pokery with stats does not explain why the UK is the ONLY country in Europe to carry out forced adoptions on a massive scale hence the thousands of court cases ;lucrative for some but disastrous for parents and child victims..
    Forced adoptions (adoptions opposed by parent(s) in court) are a crime against humanity especially when babies are taken at birth for mere RISK of emotional abuse and submitted to a closed adoption where parents will more often than not, never know whether their children are alive,dead,or merely subject to exploitation and abuse.
    All those involved in servicing or promoting this disgusting trade should be locked up for a very long time and maybe one day they will be.

    • It may well be that the future does take a different view of adoptions and that you will be right. It is possible. Law ultimately reflects societies views and societies views can change. Perhaps the UK electorate may move to be in line with the Scandanavian Governments and be willing to pay higher taxes to provide much greater public services that will allow children to stay with troubled parents, or perhaps the UK electorate will move to believe that the Romanian orphanage model is the best way of caring for children of troubled parents (I doubt it, but they might). Perhaps the UK electorate will come over time to the same view of adoption as you hold and ask Parliament to come up with a better solution, perhaps even one that’s not been tried yet. Those things are all possible.

      What I’d be prepared to bet a billion pounds on is that the UK Government will not introduce a law that makes it a criminal offence for people in the past to have followed the law and used the legal powers that the UK Government had provided about adoption, and thus locking them up for following the Adoption Acts that have existed for ninety years.

      A Government that suddenly made it a criminal offence to have followed the previous law would have extraordinary difficulties in getting anyone to follow any laws, since they might be later arrested and locked up for doing so. The only Governments I can think of where this sort of thing has happened have been totalitarian ones – possibly Mao, possibly Stalin, probably Pol Pot. That’s not a great precedent.

      • I make you right, we can’t change the ‘no punishment without crime’ laws, there’d be mayhem.

        In regards to what happens next, our PM is proposing that the social services across the country are failing badly in taking/not taking children away, therefore proposes we privatise the system, if Coram, or G4S get hold of the social service departments, (which I predict is where he is going in light of the Doncaster take over) we are in real trouble, fighting ss is hard enough for wrongly accused parents, but taking on corporate businesses will be impossible.
        IMO it’s wrong to turn a service into a business, it’s already about money to an extent, imagine businesses such as named above seeing the ££ signs rolling in

      • We are in complete agreement about that. I think that there are real issues in assuming that central government can assess a Local Authority’s quality in their adoption statistics – low numbers of adoption might indicate that they have managed within proceedings to work with a family and make changes, or to find members of the family to step up and help out, or they might indicate that they aren’t very good at persuading a Court that children aren’t safe. And pretty much every aspect of bringing private business into public sector work has been disastrous in terms of quality of service and costs, so it is not ideal that this ideology that private sector = better always still persists.

    • There does need to be an open and honest debate around non consensual adoption but given that parents don’t consent even when they have harmed their children significantly, the idea that it is forced is unhelpful language. It is also not a trade.

      It should also be noted that the UK is not the only country in Europe or one of a tiny minority of countries in the world, that participates in so-called ‘forced adoption’.
      The Council of Europe’s Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development produced a report in January 2015: Social services in Europe: legislation and practice of the removal of children from their families in Council of Europe member States.
      At para 35 the report states:
      Adoptions without the consent of the parents are not possible in France, Greece, Luxembourg and Spain. They are rare (practiced only exceptionally) in: Canada, Cyprus, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania, Serbia and Switzerland. In some countries which proscribe adoptions without the consent of the parents (for example, in Russia), the child can be given up for adoption if his/her parents are unknown, legally incapable or whose whereabouts have been recognised as unknown by a court. They are possible in Andorra, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Germany (in 2010, 250 children were placed for adoption without the parents’ consent), Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom (in 2013, 3.020 children were placed for adoption without the parents’ consent).
      So that’s 15 countries. They are ‘rare’ but do happen in another 7. 15 plus 7 is 22 – not 3. And certainly not 1. Even some countries which forbid ‘forced adoption’ will allow it in certain circumstances, for e.g. Russia.

      • Yes, it is considerably irksome when that myth gets repeated – though who can blame the Press for repeating it when the President has bought into it and referred to it in Court of Appeal judgments. It is certainly the case that those powers are used to a lesser extent in many of those countries that they are used in England and Wales.

  8. Thanks for this very useful analysis. What statistics can’t reflect and only anecdote can, is that the Courts (well, Judges rather than magistrates) are continually warning LAs during cases that they’d better not try a Placement Application because it’s never going to be granted. Almost every public law family lawyer will tell you they’ve experienced this. As to Narey – well we wouldn’t have the temerity to meddle in prison affairs and adopt the clothing of authority, would we?,His intervention was unwarranted, damaging, amateurish and shouted from the bottom of a deep well of ignorance.

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