Readers have responded in droves to Liberal Democrat John Hemming's allegation that adoption targets are driving social workers to unnecessarily take babies and small children into care.
The large majority of you were incensed or simply perplexed by his views; though a handful voiced some support for his position.
We put your opinions to Hemming and he has responded. Here are a selection of those exchanges (readers' views are in italics):
Mr Hemming produces no evidence for the allegations he makes. All my colleagues and everyone involved in child protection/adoption take these difficult decisions extremely seriously and practice based on evidence.
Hemming: I have two sources of evidence. Statistical evidence that demonstrates that the trend in care proceedings has been to take increasing numbers of young, healthy white babies into care while no substantial shift has occurred with older children. I have also the source of individual cases where I act as a lay advisor.
Zoe Davidson: I am a social worker of 21 years' experience working with children and families in statutory agencies. I currently work in the family courts where the final decisions to adopt a child are made. I find your comments quite astounding, and I do not find that they match my experience in any way. Have you based your views on a good body of evidence, or just a handful of anecdotal information? Do you accept how much more difficult it could make an already extremely complex job if views such as these are publicised without first being tested against the reality of the situation?
Hemming: I have looked at the statistical evidence, mainly the SSDA903 returns containing information on looked-after children which councils provide government with, and also around 130 cases where I would argue that the system has misbehaved in some form or other.
In all cases, decisions to remove children permanently are made by a multi-professional process. Have you shadowed a social work or CAFCASS team? What have you to say about other agencies’ roles in the decision-making process?
Hemming: The problems rest with a number of cases which are wrong. Clearly intervention is needed in some circumstances. The argument I am putting forward is that the decision-making processes are skewed and causing both interventions to occur when they shouldn’t and also interventions to not occur when they should.
Do you know that in many instances, social workers are often faced with pressure to leave children at home in abusive situations, in order to meet the targets of reducing the numbers of looked-after children?
Hemming: Whereas there are budgetary constraints there are no central government targets relating to the number of looked-after children.
I completely support your recent comments and I think clear investigation is needed.
Hemming: Thank you for this supportive comment. Many social workers are frightened to speak out about what is going on. We need an honest open debate to take the situation forward so that we are protecting children, but also supporting families.
I am a practicing social worker, primarily with adults with physical impairments, who are an extreme target with regards to babies and small children and it is becoming a little concerning.
Hemming: There are some easily identifiable targets that make it easier to obtain ‘adoptible commodities’ to hit the adoption targets.