Return of the Tzar

Narey’s back on his adoption drum, but this time it’s in a journal not a newspaper (Putting the child first: the case for care for neglected children, Families, Relationships and Societies, Volume 2, Number 3, November 2013 , pp. 463-466(4) – you can access it with a free trial account). It says nothing new, and offers some highly selective quotations from a 2010 Demos report on the care system that strongly imply that Demos concluded care was hunky dory, which is an odd thing to do of a report which purports to offer a nuanced view of the care system and what it might be if reformed:

“In this report we will consider what the care system would look like if it were reconfigured to avoid the delay, instability and abrupt transitions that many young people still experience. We go on to show that this type of system could also be less costly to the state in both the short term and over the long term.”

Of course, the sensible thing is to read the whole Demos report here, but just to recalibrate the scales I thought it might be worth dropping in some equally selective but contrasting quotes here.

On change of social worker:

“Another issue that arose during our interviews was the frequency with which social workers changed. Many of the children we spoke to assured us that this was just as disruptive as a placement move, as it required a new relationship to be formed, repetition of case details and circumstances, and a general loss of continuity in support. “

On placement moves:

“Ward contrasts the normal experience of children, who on average move home three times before adulthood, and children in care, who can commonly experience this level of disruption in one year. Her study examining data of 242 children over a period of at least 3.5 years in six local authorities found that the median length of placements in foster care was 4 months and in residential care it was 3.5 months.191 Although the numbers of placements varied according to children’s ages and attributes, Ward noted that even very young children with no additional support needs experienced frequent moves – 17 per cent of those children between 0 and 4 years old had had more than five placements during the study period.  Overall, only 19 per cent of the children in the study remained in the same placement during the study period, 41 per cent had had one or two placements, 22 per cent had had more than five, while 4 per cent had 10 or more. One had had 29 placements. 

Furthermore, it seemed that the majority of placement moves are not made at the request of the children involved, and arguably are not carried out for the child’s own wellbeing. Ward found that 43 per cent of placement moves were initiated and planned by the local authority, and often resource or practice- led, ‘occasioned by a shortage of suitable placements, a lack of choice or appropriate planning’. “

On placement for adoption:

“However, we cannot discount the fact that many placements end in an unplanned way, and this breakdown may well be due to a lack of support, in particular, mental health support. As we mention in chapter 7, the number of adoptions – once seen as the most stable, ‘gold standard’ of care placement – which are breaking down seem to be on the increase. Although local authorities do not collect official statistics on how many of their adoptive placements fail, a recent freedom of information request sent to all local authorities by More4 News found that the number of adoptions which have broken down, and children have been returned to care, had doubled between 2005 and 2009.201 The increase in breakdowns comes despite a fall in the number of children being adopted. During the year ending 31 March 2008 3,200 children looked after were adopted. This represents a 5 per cent decrease from 2007 and a 16 per cent decrease from the 2003/4 figure of 3,800.202 Adoption UK estimates that as many as one-third of adoptions break down, while the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) estimates that one in five fail even before an adoption order is granted.”

I could go on, but you get the point. It’s nuanced.

I wrote about Narey and his mission when he first became the Times Tzar in the summer of 2011 (The Narey Report – A Blueprint for the Nation’s Lost Children?) and subsequently wrote again on the topic that autumn (Narey Report Part II – Blueprint or Fairy Story?). He referenced the Demos report in his 2011 Blueprint. And I observed then :

“Demos study” (p10) In Loco Parentis, Celia Hannon Claudia Wood Louise Bazalgette, Demos, 2010, but also see another more recent study by Demos, not mentioned by Narey: The Home Front, Jen Lexmond, Louise Bazalgette, Julia Margo, 2011, which recommends better support for parents in order to achieve better outcomes for children.”

I also wrote that I was “surprised at both the choice and use of source material and the tendency to compress nuanced research conclusions and complex issues into soundbites, apparently in uncomplicated support of Mr Narey’s arguments”. Ha, I used that “nuanced” word then too. Surprisingly apt quotation.

I could write more, but on reflection my earlier blog posts are as applicable now as then, and still pretty funny. I commend them immodestly to you.

One thought on “Return of the Tzar

  1. Even setting aside all of the adoption issues, and I agree with you that cherry-picking the odd qualified supportive remark and missing out the qualifiers is bad form, it seems to me that children’s views about the impact of a change in social workers ought to be attracting significant attention.

    Of course, if a social worker gets a new job and leaves or is signed off work ill, then a change is inevitable and unavoidable, but most LA’s actually have a system in which the child is exposed to 3 social workers even without such crisis (one in duty team to start off, one who works the case in care proceedings and then one who works the case after the court is done). That’s a system that makes a lot of sense for Local Authority structures and division of labour and specialisms, but perhaps the Government should be looking at whether it is a desirable approach from the child’s perspective.

    That might well make more of a difference for children than targets and league tables.

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