The Narey Report was published early last week (5 July). You may not have read it because, unusually for a report which purports to be signally important in the development of government policy on matters of such public interest and importance as the permanent severing of the child : parent relationship, it is behind a paywall and (C) News International Trading Limited and hailed as an “exclusive”. That leaves a bit of a bad taste already, doesn’t it?
I will do my best to write this post so as to be meaningful to those who object to subscribing or who do not have access to the report itself.
In fact, it didn’t take long to read: whilst it runs to 48 pages it is discursive in style and contains no footnotes or references (that was the 1st of many raised eyebrows for this reader). It has taken me some time to put this post together, partly because of other commitments, and partly because of the gravity of the subject matter, and the need to do it properly. And partly because I like to sleep on a post when something has got me really riled up. This post required several nights sleep before I felt safe to start typing, let alone hit “publish”.
I would like to have spent more time on the post than I have been able to, but in the interests of publishing whilst there is still some news currency I have resolved to post what I’ve got – there will no doubt be some flaws and gaps which others will correct or fill in comments or elsewhere. In fact, for the same reasons I have resolved to post this in two mammoth posts – this is the first. Part two will follow – when I have finished writing it.
Let’s begin at the beginning.
The Times newspaper has previously run campaigns about family justice, notably the campaign a couple of years ago for open family courts, spearheaded by Camilla Cavendish. It’s current campaign calls for radical reform to the adoption system. David Bebber, introducing the report wrote on 5 July:
“Three months ago, amid mounting evidence that thousands of children are left languishing in temporary foster care or residential homes, The Times launched a campaign for radical reforms to the adoption system. We called for more and speedier adoptions, and for older children in particular not to be overlooked. And…we realised that to make a real difference, a more detailed analysis of the system, with specific recommendations on how it should be reformed, was required.”
Enter Martin Narey, stage left. Martin Narey has a long and distinguished career, first in the prison service, subsequently probation (NOMS) and latterly Barnardos. In the latter role he expressed forthright and often controversial views about the fast tracking of routes to adoption. Having left Barnardos in January 2011 he was available for work. Perfect candidate for the production of a controversial and therefore eminently newsworthy report, the outcomes of which are neatly foreshadowed in the quote above.
tendentious |ten?den sh ?s|
adjective expressing or intending to promote a particular cause or point of view, esp. a controversial one : a tendentious reading of history.
early 20th cent.: suggested by German tendenziös.
David Bebber goes on:
“So we asked an expert to help. Martin Narey…was ideally placed to draw up a report, exclusively for us, that would appraise the system fairly and thoroughly”.
Ideally placed indeed. Fairly and thoroughly? I’m going to analyse that proposition below.
Before I go to the content of the report it’s important to note the announcement of Martin Narey as the Government’s Adoption Tzar on 7 July (two days after publication of this private commission). How’s that bad taste? Another concerning example of Public Policy apparently driven or influenced by the media you say? Pshaw! Ridiculous!
As noted above, there are no footnotes, endnotes or indeed any references. The sources cited are in the main not referred to with their full title. This is a further barrier to transparency. It took me a number of hours to track down the references to books, reports and other written material that Narey refers to and relies upon. I have compiled them below, with links where available. This could be viewed as a surprising lack of rigour.
I have not undertaken the exercise of identifying sources which are not referred to by Narey but which evidence alternative or contradictory positions to those which he adopts (excuse pun) in his report. That exercise could be undertaken, but it is not within the scope of this post. I would welcome the posting of links to other reference material, research etc in comments.
Material that IS referred to in the report:
- “A highly regarded study by the University Of York, Mike Stein” (p5 & p10) – ??
- Quote from Royal College Of Paediatrics And Child Health teaching (p5) – unable to identify from RCPCH website.
- Bowlby and Rutter – attachment theory – no specific source identifiable, but many sources available for general history, development and principles of attachment theory.
- Martin Narey’s Institute of Public Policy Research paper 2010 (p6-7)
I can only find a reference to a paper published in 2008 (here).
- The Daily Telegraph summary of 2010 article (p7): ??
“Separation of family members will normally constitute an interference with the right to respect for family life, although such interference may be justified, for example where a child is taken into care for his or her own protection”
This quote is taken from a brief summary for the public on the Liberty website (here), and is clearly neither intended to be a full exposition of the law in this area nor taken out of context. In any event it is a trite proposition – clearly the removal of a child may be a lawful interference with Article 8 rights – and depending on the facts it may not. Narey sets up a false dichotomy – there is no contradiction between the paramountcy principle and due regard to Article 8 and indeed Article 6 rights – the proper consideration of welfare issues in accordance with s1 Children Act 1989 is likely to render an interference necessary and proportionate on Human Rights grounds, but it need not be an either or situation. Welfare itself is difficult to identify and even more difficult to agree on – it has many aspects and an action may simultaneously enhance welfare in one aspect whilst harming it in another. Narey seems to see the world in black and white: safe and unsafe homes; good parents and bad parents.
- “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.
- All In A Day’s Work, Becky Hope (p10):
Published by Hodder & Stoughton and described in marketing material as “one woman’s gripping story”. Without wishing to doubt the authenticity or sincerity of this social worker cum author’s account, this seems to me to be a suprising source for a report which is intended to shape public policy. There is a place for qualitative evidence, but this is not just anecdotal evidence, it is a commercial product. This is no substitute for meeting with and speaking to Local Authority social workers, lawyers and others, for visiting the places where their work goes on and for gaining a real understanding of what they do. Narey says her book “captures the sad reality that too often we wait too long before removing a child from parental neglect, sometimes because of an unjustified optimism about the capacity of parents to improve.” It’s not a reality that I am often presented with when explaining a Local Authority’s care plan to my clients. My sad reality is quite different – optimism about parental capacity for change is not something that today’s overworked, jaded social workers are generally overflowing with.
- “A University of York study published last year” (p13):
Maltreated Children In The Looked After System: A Comparison Of Outcomes For Those Who Go Home And Those Who Do Not (Jim Wade, Nina Biehal, Nicola Farrelly and Ian Sinclair) Social Policy Research Unit, University of York, August 2010.
- “An article published in the Journal of Social Policy in 2009” (p13):
What is the Impact of Public Care on Children’s Welfare? A Review of Research Findings from England and Wales and their Policy Implications, Donald Forrester, Keith Goodman, Christine Cocker, Charlotte Binnie and Graham Jensch; Journal of Social Policy (2009), 38: 439-456. The quotation is a direct quote from the abstract.
- This “deeply unbalanced reference…on the website of one local authority” (p16):
“A parent who is considering placing their baby for adoption must be offered counseling and must be given time after the baby is born to reflect on tehri decision. Many are sad about not being able to raise or have a relationship with their child. Some have said that they eventually adjusted to the loss of a child, but that the pain and grief lasted a very long time. Others have said that life was never the same after placing the child.”
This appears to relate to Kirklees and concerns the decision by a new mother of a newborn baby to place him for adoption. It appears to me that far from being “deeply unbalanced” this statement is likely to be factually accurate, and aimed at the same issue that is behind the statutory prohibition on adoptions immediately after birth – namely that such decisions can have lifelong serious consequences for mothers and should be taken after proper reflection.
- Planned Parenthood (p16-17) is a US website, and as such deals with the US legal and cultural framework.
- “One local authority says this on it’s website” (p17):
“It is an important part of an adoptive parent’s role …to help a child or young person deal with their feelings about being part of two families and it is essential that efforts are made to keep a child’s birth family “alive” for that child”
This appears to be Dundee: and is rather taken out of context. In any event there is plenty of research that suggests that adoption is more likely to be successful (particularly in relation to older children) where knowledge of the birth family is open to the child “for identity purposes” (See for example the Kirklees website that Mr Narey refers to).
- “The Guardian recently estimated adoption breakdowns at 20%” (p24)
The only reference I can find is to this article, written by a member of the public in 2008:
Shows an average adoption breakdown rate of 20% for “late” adoptive placements.
Superficially, the written material referred to above gives an impression of “detailed analysis”, but in my view the use of even those sources is questionable. In any event it is apparent that in large part the conclusions reached are based largely upon Martin Narey’s strongly held opinions, opinions which pre-dated the commission and which are base upon limited anecdotal evidence in the course of his previous roles, rather than any systematic qualitative evidence gathering or fact finding exercise in the report writing period (a period which extended over as little as two or three months depending on which bit of the report and introductory article you rely on). There is no evidence of Martin Narey having visited courts or Local Authority social workers (the information he takes from social workers appears limited to social workers employed by Barnardos and one or two Local Authority social workers who have chosen to write to him, perhaps aware that his views chimed with their own). There is no reference to any legal source, other than passing mention of the Children Act and Articles 6 and 8 ECHR, and not even a mention of the complicated (and dysfunctional) framework of regulatory material in relation to care and adoption.
THAT my friends, was a tedious and laborious task. Having carried it out, I find I am 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. Whether I am right in this opinion will now at least be capable of discussion. I have not read all of the research on these topics. I have not had either the time or the stamina to do so after constructing Mr Narey’s Bibliography for him. It should at least aid transparency of discussion. Perhaps others can take up the baton whilst I take a rest?
Part Two of this blog post will follow in a day or two.