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.

White lines work better than speed cameras

It seems, based on research, that white lines are actually much more effective at reducing road accidents than speed cameras. Improved road markings can save up to eight times as many lives as a speed trap.

One obvious problem with this approach for the authorities is that, whilst new or renewed road markings do have the merit of being cheap, they do not generate an income of a billion pounds a year.

The UK has around 6,000 speed traps. Research suggests that speed traps can lead to around a 10% fall in four common types of collision; head-on crashes, side-impacts at junctions, collisions with trees and lampposts and accidents involving cyclists or pedestrians hit by cars.

Dr Joanne Hill, the head of research at the European Road Assessment Programme (EuroRAP), has stated that dedicated lanes for turning right, or left, reduce side-impacts by as much as 80%. Anti-skid surfaces can produce a 65 % reduction in RTAs (Road Traffic Accidents) across the board, new signage up to 40% across the board and renewing road markings cuts RTAs by up to 35 per cent.

So in fact speed cameras are actually the least effective measure.

Dr Hill said: "A pot of paint doesn't cost a lot of money but the rate of return is phenomenal. A highways authority could typically save 20 fatal, or serious injury accidents, over three years just by re-lining a junction. A speed camera shouldn't be the only measure installed."

It would appear, based on cost and actual effectiveness, rather than earning potential, speed traps (‘safety cameras’) should only be the final measure installed, and then only if required on actual safety grounds.

Official self congratulation at English smoking ban

Don’t tell a small lie, no one will believe you – but tell a big one…

Trade union leaders have applauded the smoking ban in England as a step forward for workplace safety - describing passive smoking as the "third biggest cause of deaths at work".

This is absolute patent drivel. How many work places actually allowed smoking anywhere, other than in very limited smoking rooms? As we can all attest not many.

Most employers effectively banned smoking on various grounds such as fire safety years ago. It has been banned for years on public transport and in most offices. I don’t know of any factories where it is allowed.

So, even if we accept the ever inflating claims of the passive smoking brigade, this ban will have virtually zero impact in reducing so-called passive smoking, except in environments where smoking was still actually allowed like pubs and clubs.

These days? ‘Third biggest cause of deaths at work’? Indeed...

Alan Johnson the UK Health Secretary lauded the smoking ban in England as the: "single most important public health legislation for a generation". Suggesting the ban on smoking in enclosed public places, would improve the health of hundreds of thousands of people.

It is only likely to really improve the health of ‘hundreds of thousands of people” if it makes smoking so much bother that hundreds of thousands of people were to give up smoking as a result of the ban.

He might have done better, with out setting a dubious authoritarian precedent, by offering a substantial cash bounty, as a one off, to those who gave up smoking for over a year. To be paid back with interest if they took it up again.

Anti smoking figs for death by passive smoking in the UK vary between 1,000 and 4,500 pa. Given the amount of pollutants around how can they tell with any certainty if these are due to cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, or in the case of older people all the muck from coal fires and smog?