Narey Report Part II – Blueprint or Fairy Story?

Once upon a time a long long time ago I wrote a blog post about a report written by Mr Narey. Mr Narey was a naughty man who wanted to take lots of babies away from their mummies. I wrote a story telling all the people about why Mr Narey's naughty report said lots of things it shouldn't. But it was such a long story that I had to stop for a little sleep. And although I promised to finish my blog post another day I never did. And now another very important man called Mr Loughton might do all the things that Mr Narey tells him. And all because I forgot to finish my story. Oh dear!

Oh for the love of god I can't keep it up: And then the wolf gobbled them up. The end.

But seriously, I notice today that the Narey report remains on the agenda, and that the Government, through Mr Loughton, is due to respond shortly and it has prompted me to complete the task begun in July.

So...

Narey Report: A Blueprint for the Nation's Lost Children - Part II

In part I of this blog post I dealt primarily with the *cough* provenance of the report, and with rigour of the referencing and the source material that Martin Narey relied upon in his report.

I had intended in July to carry out a full and rather detailed analysis of the report. I'm not going to do that now. I'm going to look at things in a rather more broad brush way. The Community Care article referred to above reports Tim Loughton as telling us we have all the ingredients for a "perfect adoption system". Now that is not Martin Narey's phrase, but it is a good illustration of the upside down approach to adoption. What can ever be perfect about severing a child's relationship with her parents and transplanting her with a new family with whom she has no connection? For the record, I'm not anti-adoption and neither do I favour children languishing* in care for years on end, or endorse them remaining in abusive homes - but there is a concerning tendency in some circles to view adoption as a "good thing", as a success story. And concomitantly, a tendency to see low adoption figures as a failure - when the most recent batch of adoption statistics were published a month or so ago there was a lot of press coverage about the fact that only 60 babies were adopted in year to end Mar 2011 (No mention was made of the 3000 other over 1s who were also adopted or of those who were the subject of placement orders, or who were matched but not yet adopted).

From the perspective of those who wish to have children but who cannot, for whatever reason, become biological parents: of course adoption is a wonderful opportunity for them; although the romanticised picture of adopters taking home a newborn bundle is no longer realistic since the eradication of the social stigma associated with bearing children out of wedlock has radically affected the numbers of so-called "voluntary" adoption and the numbers of babies available for placement. That some blameless couples (or individuals) would otherwise be unable to become parents themselves is not a reason to promote more and faster adoption. Biological parents are themselves often the victim of cruel circumstance that has impaired their ability to parent, albeit in very different ways. If they can be helped to parent well they should be so helped. IF.

Adoptions can be successful, they can be the best (or at least the least worst) option for individual children. But the only "perfect" solution is to - somehow - enable a child to be safely and adequately parented by her own parents, or perhaps by her own extended family. Why do we find that aspect so easy to leave out of discussion about adoption? Because we know that sadly, today's "lost children" are tomorrow's are tomorrow's inadequate parents. And today's inadequate parents are yesterday's lost children. And that is a story of failure that is quite hard to think about. Because it feels so inevitable, so immutable, so desperate.

Adoptions by their very nature are necessary because something has gone very wrong (excluding perhaps a small group of voluntary adoptions which fall into a rather different category). Sometimes that is the "fault" of the parent, for example because they perpetrate abuse on their children. Sometimes it is because, through no fault of their own they are unable to parent, or they are inadequate. Much of what people like Mr Narey tell us about adoption is all happy ending and no story. For most adopted children their life is not in any sense a fairy story.

Nobody would argue with the proposition that where children cannot return to their families adoption ought to be pursued as swiftly as possible. And we have to find ways to avoid delay. But the whole thrust of both the report and much of what one can read in the press rests upon the base assumption that more adoption is a good thing. Actually more adoption means that we have failed on more occasions to successfully support parents and families to stay together. It means that we have abandoned the task of improving the parenting capacity of parents, apparently oblivious to the inevitability that they will fall pregnant again and the cycle will be repeated.

There is a lot of talk about family intervention projects but nominal support for them by the Government. Those are where we should be targeting resources. District Judge Crichton of the Inner London FPC this week won an award for his outstanding contribution to family law in the shape of the successful and innovative Family Drug and Alcohol Court which supports parents to make the changes necessary to enable the courts to avoid draconian solutions like adoption (he got a rapturous applause from the audience and rightly so). That kind of project is where we should be targeting resources.

That is particularly so when the Government itself recognises the inadequacy of evidence about the breakdown rates of adoptions (even if Martin Narey does not). More adoption does not necessarily equate to more happy endings - even in what could properly be called a successful adoption an adult will be profoundly effected by the fact of their adoption and their experience and knowledge of the circumstances surrounding it. We have to be more creative about breaking these cycles and about investing efforts in making families functional, and we should be very anxious about approaches which encourage us to rush to judgment on the capacity of parents to do a good enough job. It was under Martin Narey's stewardship remember that Barnardos proposed a timescale for the completion of an entire set of proceedings (12 weeks) that is shorter than the generally recommended time for residential assessment of learning disabled parents (16 weeks) that is required in order to properly establish their ability to parent and - crucially - their capacity to learn and change. Of course there are some who would say that the court's role should be minimal in any event (the views of Family Justice Review Panel Member John Coughlan deserve a whole blog post in themselves, suffice to say he appears to be saying the exact same things that he said when I gave evidence to the panel last July).

We can never achieve perfect parenting. I can't achieve it. My clients can't achieve it. Those members of the judiciary, social work and other professions who have children don't achieve it. Adoptive parents don't achieve it. We all bumble along doing our best. Sometimes we fail to put the children first, make a textbook mistake. And some parents really do fail and fail irredeemably. But except at the extremes it is essentially a matter of degree, a spectrum. You can't identify a hopeless parent by checking behind their ear for a label - you have to look carefully at the complexities, the details, the background. Adoption is and should be a draconian state intervention of last resort, not a quick fix or an aspiration. By all means speed up care proceedings where possible, improve adoption practice, do more robust research on adoption breakdown so that we can give children the best possible chances....But do not make adoption an end in itself. The only target we should have is to reduce the numbers of adoptions which become necessary at all.

* NB it is compulsory pursuant to s1 of the Emotive Language Act 1999 to describe all periods of accommodation by way of foster care as periods spent "languishing". It is an offence punishable by a sentence of up to six months imprisonment (in a cell with Christopher Booker) not to employ the use of this term.

The Narey Report: A Blueprint for the nation’s lost children?

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.

Background

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.

Consider:

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.

DERIVATIVES 

tendentiously adverb

tendentiousness noun

ORIGIN 

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!

Detailed analysis

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): ??

 

  • Liberty quote (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.

 

 

  • 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.

Busting more Myth Buster myths…

In November 2014 I wrote about the Adoption Myth Buster Guide, see here : Take me to your Leadership Board. I said that it had been confirmed that the “top QC” who had authored the guide was in fact Janet Bazley QC.

Janet has recently been in touch to ask me if I could correct my post, because she is not the author of the myth busting guidance (this is obviously most shocking because the delay in this request appears to be evidence that there remains a top QC who does not regularly read my blog ;-)).

Janet says :

In fact, I am not the author of the original version and was not consulted at all about the further document produced later by the Department of Education. I advised the D of E but did not write the document, which was written by D of E lawyers. I had no editorial control.

I originally stated that “it had been confirmed” after myself and others asked Martin Narey for a name on twitter.

 

I post some of the relevant tweets below.

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I have amended the original post (tracked) and have linked to this explanatory post rather than disrupting the flow of the original post by inserting it in the body of the original.