Local authorities have questioned the credibility of the government’s controversial adoption scorecards, published for the first time today.
The scorecards reveal nearly half of all local authorities have failed to meet the government’s adoption targets set for this year.
But the data fails to provide a sound basis for comparison across local authority areas, according to the Local Government Association, Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives.
“For example, one council’s Ofsted-rated outstanding adoption service looks like a poor performer in the score card – this is simply not credible,” the organisations said in a joint statement.
“We have engaged constructively with the Department for Education and are therefore even more disappointed that our shared improvement agenda is undermined by a misleading use of data.”
Children’s minister Tim Loughton said: “I make no apology for shining a light on the system to hold local areas to account. I have been clear that we won’t hesitate to intervene where the worst delays are not tackled effectively.”
The scorecards found 72 local authorities had either taken more than 21 months to place a child for adoption, from when they entered care, and/or more than seven months to match a child to a family following a court order.
A spokesperson said the government would now look in detail at councils that performed worst on the scorecards, factoring in any reasons for delay.
“It’s now up to local authorities to show they have a plan in place for improvement and if the government isn’t satisfied we will start issuing formal improvement notices before the summer,” the spokesperson said.
The figures show that some councils’ performance could be linked to the speed of the family courts in their area, with Merton and Liverpool seeing court delays of over a year while West Berkshire achieved court times of 32 weeks.
In the statement issued today, local authorities pointed out that two-thirds of councils were hitting their targets if the family court process was taken out of the equation.
The scorecards also measured the percentage of children in care who were adopted and the percentage of black and ethnic minority children and over-fives who were adopted, as well as the number of children waiting for adoption as of March last year.
Loughton acknowledged that speed was not the “be all and end all”. “We are not asking local authorities to speed up adoptions to the exclusion of everything else, but many more areas need to strike a better balance between quality placements and the risk of long-term damage to children by leaving them with uncertain futures,” he said.
John Simmonds, director of policy, research and development for the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, said the scorecards should stimulate learning, but must not “distort practice by diverting children away from adoption because they are difficult to place within required timescales”.