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The news is not quite as bad as it sounds. The number of "Looked After Children", in other words children in care, has increased. As of the end of March the total was 67,050. That is 2% more than a year earlier.

Each of these cases is a complicated personal tragedy. However, some of the details suggest   modest progress. There were 3,450 children adopted from 2011-12. That is an increase of 12% on the previous year.

So the reason the total went up is that more children were coming into care.  If children need to be taken into care then it is better for delay to be avoided. There has to be tough acceptance of reality – awareness of this was heightened by the Baby Peter scandal in Haringey. 

As we know, the mistake now tends to be, not that seen in Cleveland a generation ago of social workers being too quick to take a child into care, but of them being too slow. A typical example might be leaving a child with its birth mother who is a heroin addict, on the offchance that she might come off heroin. She probably won't. So the best interests of the child are not being served.  In terms of the figures, the child would likely end up going into care eventually anyway.

What if the number of children who need to go into care is increasing? That Britain is becoming more, not less, broken?  That would be very depressing. But if it is so, then it is hoped that the Troubled Families initiative will help. It is often the same families that produce children destined for the care system.

The terrible problem comes in the general assumption by social workers that once they have a child in care, it should remain there.  That the care system should be the destination for the duration of their childhood – rather than a brief stopping point before being placed in a permanent loving home. A permanent limbo. One foster carer after another, perhaps a children's home, perhaps the odd return to the birth parents, followed by a return to the care system.

In terms of the "big picture" this situation remains appalling. Of 27,350 children who ceased to be in care last year, it was generally that they had reached their 18th or 16th birthday.   Some returned to their birth families only to then go back into care. That revolving door does nothing to help.

Adoption should be the norm. It should be the presumption. Sometimes the child really will too unruly for adoption to be realistic. Sometimes their really will be sufficient justification for a return to the birth family. But for the majority, the large majority, of children going into care the detination of adoption should follow. For that to happen, the number of adoptions needs to increase not by merely 13% or even 130% but five fold or ten fold.

It needs to be on a different scale. I believe that such a dramatic improvement is possible. It would mean taking thousands of children off this conveyor belt of misery. That would be a great prize. But it will not happen through consensus or by mere "guidance" to social workers. It will mean some bold legal changes so that decisions are made in a different way.

There has been progress. But it is miserably slow. Let's see what the new Children's Minister, Edward Timpson, can achieve.

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