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“It is not down on any map, true places never are”

The DFE Adoption maps and what we can learn from them, if anything

The DFE have published their adoption maps, whilst repeating over and over that these are not a  judgment on local authority performance. Much in the same way that listing all of the countries job centres in tabular form, with those who have achieved the highest number of stopping people’s benefits is not a league table, or an indication that stopping people’s benefits is considered to be a good thing.

 Anyway, I love maps, and I thought there were some interesting things to emerge from them. Plus, the chance for this title, which is probably my favourite line in all literature (it is from Moby Dick, and the nearest competitor is probably Hotspur’s rejoinder to Glendower’s  “I can call spirits from the vasty deep”   – “Why so can I, or so can any man. But do they come when you do call for them?” )


Also, it lets me make reference to another of my favourite passages, from The Hunting of the Snark

 He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.




I’m not sure that the DFE maps constitute a map we can all understand, though there are some who would claim it has as much meaningful content as the map in Hunting of the Snark.  Certainly, if we apply the Bellman from Snark’s rationale that “What I tell you three times is true”  then it is not intended to be a comparison of Local Authority performances    *


[And for an excellent analysis of the “What I tell you three times is true” motif,  see this wonderful piece from Inky Fool  –  which tells you the derivation of that annoying habit people have of politely refusing something twice and then accepting it at the third time of asking. It all arose with a polite convention about what you are supposed to do if someone asks you to become a bishop. I wish that I had written it, but as I liked it so much, the least I can do is steer others towards it. If you are ever asked to become a bishop, now you know the polite convention  ]


Enough literature, on with the maps!


The main DFE caveat with the maps is that they only include figures for adopters approved by Local Authorities and none by any voluntary adoption agencies.  The main gripe from the Local Authorities is that looking at a map just tells you something bald, and you can’t compare, say Leicestershire and Liverpool without knowing something about the size of population and social problems that each might have.


Anyway,  there are several maps, but the one I was most interested in was Map B

Map B does a clever little exercise – for each Local Authority, it takes all of the children in that area who are waiting to be adopted  (i.e where an Adoption Panel / Agency Decision Maker has considered that adoption is the plan and where a Court has made a Placement Order) and compared that to the number of adopters that that Local Authority has approved.

 In an ideal world, you would want 1 adoptive family approved for every child that you are looking to place   (maybe even ideally slightly higher than that, to give you some choice, though of course, some adopters are looking to adopt 2 children).


What it tells you is, notionally speaking, if a Local Authority decided that they were going to match every single adoptive family with a child on their books,  whether they would have adopters left over, or children left over. And how many.

 For children waiting to be adopted, this map is bad news. The lowest category, the darkest blue, is where there are 2 or fewer children waiting for each approved adopter.

 The highest category, the yellow, is where there are between 11 and 23 children waiting for each approved adopter.

 Now, whilst some adopters are prepared to adopt two children (and thus the navy blue Local Authorities might be able to clear their children waiting for adoption if they could theoretically match up all the children with all the adopters), there aren’t adopters waiting to adopt eleven or twenty three children.


Meaning that if one did that notional exercise, matching every adopter up with as many children as they were prepared to take, the yellow authorities would have barely put a dent in the children needing to be placed (maybe reducing the number of children waiting by 20%, maybe 10%, maybe even less)

 Green authorities have between 6 and 10 children waiting for each approved adopter.

 So, the more yellow and green authorities there are, the worse it is for children waiting to be adopted.

 How many dark blues are there?  I made it about fifty.

 And yellows? I made it about 13, with 19 greens.

 Bear in mind, that what often happens is that one local authority places children for adoption with adopters approved by another local authority. But you can see that even the best authorities don’t have adopters left over (compared to the number of children that need families) and that even spreading out the yellow and green authorities additional families across the country doesn’t solve the problem.

 Nationally, we have far more children needing to be adopted   (* Anticipating the comments, by which I mean children where a Court has heard evidence and argument and decided that adoption is the right plan for them) than there are people approved as adopters.

 Equally, you can see that whilst the Midlands is pretty evenly matched between children needing placements and placements available, the East of the country and the South/South East of the country is pretty bad, with there being no neighbouring counties to raid for adoptive placements, since they are all struggling to meet their own demands.

 It is a shame that the independent adoption agencies figures are not in there, it may well be that those figures would dramatically alter the position.

 It is a worry, however, that the demand for adoptive placements is substantially outstripping the supply of such placements. That leads to delay, of course, it leads to some children not being able to be found placements, and inevitably it needs to a situation where the chance to place difficult children (in large sibling groups, or with profound problems, or with a family background of mental health problems) becomes much harder.

 Perhaps the Government’s ambitious thinking that there are four million potential adopters out there and that more can be converted from potential to actual if the process is made less bureaucratic and terrifying is right, and that the problem can be addressed by better recruitment.

 [There’s a curious little spreadsheet tucked away with some hard data

 I liked looking at the average duration of care proceedings in each authority, given that we are told that 26 weeks will be coming in, and we have been ostensibly working on an average target of 40 weeks for  NINE YEARS now.  Yes, the Protocol, god rest its soul, would have been ten years old this November.

 I counted 11 of the 149 authorities that had an average duration of care proceedings of 40 weeks or under.

 Let’s look at 50 weeks – that being 25% longer than the current target.  I counted NINETY SIX authorities where the average duration of proceedings was 50 weeks or longer.  There were some, not many, but some, that were over 60 weeks  (i.e 50% longer than the current target)   – 18 in all.  

 So actually, there are MORE authorities going 50% OVER the current target than there are going UNDER the current target. After NINE YEARS of pressure to get the duration down to 40 weeks  ]


 [A completely irrelevant footnote – as a blogger, I have a spam filter, and I get the most extraordinary spam comments, most of which are thinly disguised links to fake sunglasses or handbags, some are extraordinary Williams Burroughs-esque stream of consciousness masquerading as genuine dialogue. Today, however, I got a spam link from someone purporting to be from a website named “”   which might really have missed its target audience completely. I did not follow it up, I don’t think its likely to be my cup of tea]