Significant differences in adoption rates across England

Significant differences in adoption rates across England, states researchers.

There has been a four-fold increase in the number of five-year-old children who have been adopted or placed with special guardians in England, according to research.

However, the research carried out by researchers at the University of Central Lancashire found significant differences between local authorities in the number of five-year-olds being adopted or placed in Special Guardianship Orders.

Professor Andy Bilson, emeritus professor of social work at the University of Central Lancashire, who carried out the research said: “Analysis of government figures on a national scale has revealed a large change in adoption rates over five years, but a more in-depth look into these statistics uncovers that these figures are also dramatically different between local authorities and that high increases in adoption are accompanied by large increases in child protection investigations.

“This data suggests that government policy drives towards promoting adoption, combined with cuts to family support services, are impacting different local authorities in different ways. The strength of these trends means that they will only continue in the future unless the government balances its focus on promoting adoption with funding for families that may be struggling,” he added.

Professor Andy Bilson, issued Freedom of Information requests to local authorities and the Department for Education which revealed an almost four-fold increase in numbers between 1999 and 2017.

The research found that of the 70 local authorities which provided data, there was a 21 per cent increase in the number of children adopted or in care with a legal order waiting for adoption on their fifth birthday in the year ending 31 March 2017 compared to 2012, with numbers rising from 53 to 64 per 10,000. Rates of adoption varied with a 12-fold difference between the highest and lowest ranked local authorities.

Within 20 local authorities in particular, the rate of adoption decisions had increased from 41 to 80 per 10,000 between these years – an increase of 96 per cent. These authorities had large increases in all levels of involvement with social care, especially in child protection investigations, which increased by 90 per cent.

Three of these 20 local authorities more than doubled their rates of adoption decisions. Southampton, which had the highest rate of adoptions at 185 per 10,000, also increased its rate of child protection investigations and over 14 per cent of all children aged five had been investigated in the 2017 cohort.

Stuart Gallimore, ADCS President, said: “There is no single reason why rates of children coming into care and being adopted vary across the country. Austerity has visibly impacted on our services and our communities. Funding has been significantly reduced at a time when more and more families are in need of help and support meaning this is only available once their problems have reached crisis point. Children living in the most deprived areas in England are 10 times more likely to be on a child protection plan or in care than their wealthier counterparts. That is not to say poverty breeds neglect, rather the stress and strain that deprivation places on adults affect their children and their parenting ability. Other factors at play include differences in courts, society’s tolerance for risk driving risk-averse practice and the varying needs and circumstances of a child e.g. for some children an alternative family member might be able to care for them.

“Local authorities are committed to keeping children with the highest level of need safe, including by seeking court interventions where necessary. This is not a numbers game, behind these statistics are vulnerable children and young people and their welfare remain paramount in our work. Ultimately, the court will not agree to the removal of a child into care or approve an adoption unless this is the right decision for the child,” he added.

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