MP criticises government ‘obsession’ with adoptions

John Hemmings MP (left) has accused the government of being "obsessed" with adoption while ignoring other permanency orders for children, despite not knowing how many adoptions end up breaking down.

An MP has accused the government of being “obsessed” with adoption while ignoring other permanency orders for children.

In a letter sent to The Times and seen by Community Care, Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming said government data shows that although adoption numbers have fallen – a fact that has been regularly quoted by ministers and widely reported in the media – the number of permanent orders for children, such as residency orders and special guardianship orders, have actually increased.

“The total number of children leaving care to permanence to 31st March 2010 was 5,500 and to 31st March 2011 was 5,960. That is a net increase rather than reduction. I take the view that this conceals other problems, but it remains that these figures show more permanence not less,” Hemming wrote.

He told Community Care he believed there was “an obsession with adoption in government and at The Times newspaper” which risked ignoring other “very good” permanency options for children.

He also claimed that the government’s efforts to increase the number of adoptions are premature given the lack of reliable data on the number that break down.

“The government has…detailed information as to what happens with each child in care. I find it sad that The Times is willing to pressurise the government to change policy without the detailed work as to how many adoptions break down and a proper consideration of outcomes for children in care,” Hemming wrote.

“What we should be concentrating on is protecting children from harm. That focus has been lost with the concentration on adoption. It is important to look at the details of the figures and not to concentrate on a few headline figures,” he wrote.

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers, said she was “surprised” to find herself agreeing with Hemming – who has been a strong critic of social workers in the past – but said his argument was “credible”.

“John Hemming is right to draw attention to the fact that we need accurate data and a much better analysis of what happens after children have been adopted before we rush to increase adoption figures.

“How many children have we assessed as being suitable for adoption and what’s happening to them? That’s the data we need to collect and interrogate,” she said.

Hemming’s argument also echoes that made by Steve Miley, interim assistant director of the children’s social care division at Hammersmith and Fulham, who recently told Community Care: “Official statistics for all permanency orders show an excellent improvement over the last five years – a 27% increase in the number of permanency orders; and in the last year a 9% increase.

“This illustrates very positive outcomes for children; the debate about adoption needs to cover all aspects of permanency and has a positive picture to paint.”

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