Monday, 2 July 2007

Babies taken into care more than double since adoption targets set

The UK Government's obsession with targets seems to have allowed the law of unintended consequences lead to a sinister development.

Nu-Lab set targets to be achieved for adoptions in 2000. No doubt in the laudable hope of reducing the number of orphans in state care. Queue music and Pause for rosy picture of a young child opening Christmas presents round a tree with their loving new family.

What happened instead? Well problem teenagers are not all that an attractive prospect for adoption, especially after they have been in the hands of the authorities for a while. Cute Babies on the other hand…

It’s a bit like rescue animals. No so many are willing to take on an infirm old moggy who needs medical attention and pukes up on the carpet at random every now and then, but a cute kitten on the other hand, much easier to find a home for.

Now if you are crudely setting targets like the number of adoptions no bureaucratic mind is going to bother about the profile of the adoptions.

Once you start to measure one particular facet of something everything that is not measured no longer particularly counts and is often then, either ignored, or bent to improve what is measured.

Babies are easier to find homes for, the younger the better. They are what boost the figures and presumably helps performance related civil servant pay – so if you had more of them to shift, then the figures would look even better…

After targets were set in 2000 the figures for very young children being adopted really took off.

By a staggering coincidence, according to figures obtained the Telegraph the total number of children aged under a year taken into council care in England, before being adopted has also rose, by a similar ratio, from 970 in 1996 to 2,120 last year.

These decisions are made in secret closed courts. A mother whose child is taken from her actually commits an offence if she tells anyone outside a tiny, approved list of people. Under the current law, reporters and members of the public are not allowed to attend family court hearings, verify documentary evidence, review evidence or even obtain copies of judgments.

John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley, who wants more openness in family courts, said of the latest adoption figures: "We are seeing a massive growth in the forced removal of newborns from their natural parents. Babies are being taken into care merely to satisfy government adoption targets."

A solicitor, Sarah Harman, who has specialised in family law for nearly 30 years said: "Social services are the only department other than MI5 who undertake their work in complete secrecy. It's not the welfare of the child that is being protected, it is the welfare of social workers. This cannot be justified.

If this is true, as it appears, it is bureaucratic and faceless, but never-the-less actual evil. No individual will ever take responsibility for it, or is ever likely to face anything, other than reward for it.

The Government should address it immediately, seeing as they have inadvertently created the conditions that caused it - and do not appear to have properly monitored the actual outcomes of the changes they introduced.

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