Saturday, October 1, 2011

New Adoption Figures Lack Context

The news has been abuzz recently with the release of figures that show that only 60 babies were adopted in the last year, compared to 150 in 2007.  This has been described as 'shocking' and 'scandalous', but, as always with these statistics-based stories, there is a context that is being ignored.

Firstly, babies here are defined as only those aged less than one year old.  The full figures show that the number of children being adopted aged 1-4 has stayed more or less static over the same period, and the average age of adoption has fallen from 4.2 to 3.10. So, while less under-1s are being adopted, the number of very young children being adopted hasn't fallen, and the lower average age could imply that the process is speeding up, not slowing down.

But why are more babies under 1 not being adopted?  The figures don't show how many babies of that age are in care awaiting adoption, only the total number of children in care.  Maybe there are fewer babies in care?  We can't tell from the figures.

And of those children who are in care, what percentage are actually eligible for adoption?  Many children in care are not awaiting adoption at all, but are in care as a temporary measure while family issues are resolved.  These children need to be removed from the equation if these adoption statistics are to have any real context.

We also read that a child will spend an average of 2.7 years in care before being adopted.  It is still the policy of social services that all possibilities of re-uniting a child with their birth family, or placing them with extended family should be exhausted before adoption is considered.  Bearing this in mind, it is not surprising that this can be a lengthy process as parents complete assessment procedures and long transitions from foster care back into the family.

And perhaps most important of all, and rarely mentioned, is the fact that a child over the age of four, or in a sibling group or with a disability stands an extremely poor chance of being adopted at all because, by and large, this is not what adoptive parents are looking for.  For parents who are adopting to create a family, the dream is for a little baby to bring up from scratch, not a ten-year-old with a lifetime of baggage behind them.

The difficulties of finding families for older children must skew the statistics on average waiting times.  I would love to know the statistics on how long, on average, it takes for a child to be adopted if they were brought into care aged less than 6 months.  I bet it's a lot less than 2.7 years.  But of course, we can't tell from the figures in the news reports.

The long and short of it is that this is a much more complex issue than can be covered in a few sensationalist headlines and several paragraphs of inflammatory comment.  Polly Curtis does a reasonable job of looking behind the issues in The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/reality-check-with-polly-curtis/2011/sep/29/reality-check-adoption), and includes some illuminating quotes from The Fostering Network and others, but in general, this is just another example of grabbing a statistic out of context and using it to draw several completely spurious conclusions.

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