Are adoptions on the decline?

13 August 2012

"The number of kids in care in the UK has increased by 4,510 — a rise of almost eight per cent — since 2006, when there were 59,890. Yet there were 500 fewer adoptions last year, down from 3,700."

The Independent, 13 August 2012

The release of adoption data from the Office for National Statistics at the beginning of August has arguably been to the media as a recently unscrewed honey jar would be to a group of flies.

Commentating on the popularity of adopting children from oversees, an Independent blog joined the swarm this morning, comparing the increasing number of children in care with the drop in adoptions.

But what's really happening?


Full Fact's previous brush with adoption statistics showed that figures on the number of children in care being adopted and the overall number of adoptions were easily confused by news outlets.

We also found that this data is separate from the number of "placements" in a year, which refers to the period of time children spend with their adoptive families prior to an application for an adoption order (the court order which severs a child's legal ties to their birth parents and rebinds them with adoptive parents).

Keeping these lessons firmly in mind, we turn to the Independent's claims this morning. As the blog does not reference any source directly we can compare its statistics with the latest official adoption figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS)

The ONS figures provide yearly updates on adoptions occurring in England and Wales. Compiled from the number of successful adoption orders, the statistics do not only count the number of children in care being adopted, but also the number of children adopted by step-parents or other relatives.  

According to the latest data, 4,734 children were adopted in 2011, which, compared to the 4,481 adopted in 2010, is a six percent increase from the previous year. These figures do not match up to the Independent's claims, which purported a decrease in adoptions to 2011.

To view this increase in context, the ONS publication provides a graph of the total number of adoptions in England and Wales occurring over time:

The graph shows a slight decline in the number of adoptions since 2002, with 2011 seeing a rare pick-up in the numbers.

Department of Education figures

The Independent article compared the number of children in care with the number of children adopted. It is possible its figures were pooled from adoption statistics for looked after children, rather from the ONS statistics on total adoptions.

These annual National Statistics are published by the Department for Education (DfE), the latest of which provide figures for looked after children in England up to March 2011.

So, how do the Independent claims fair against this publication?

The DfE statistics show that in the year ending March 2011, 65,520 children were looked after by local authorities in England. This is an increase of 1.7 per cent since the last year, and a nine percent increase since 2007, when there were 59,970 looked after children.

As the figures do not go back to 2006 in this publication, in order to check the Independent's claims, we have to consider the previous year's publication.

According to this, 60,300 children were being looked after by local authorities in 2006. This is an increase of 8.6 percent between 2006 and 2011, slightly different from the Independent figures.

Full Fact contacted the author of the Independent article to find out more about the origins of his figures. His claims did however bear a resemblance to a Sun article, published in December 2010, which asserted:

"The number of kids in care has increased by 4,510 — a rise of almost eight per cent — since 2006, when there were 59,890. Yet there were 500 fewer adoptions last year, down from 3,700."

The Sun's claims

As the Sun article was published almost two years ago, the figures it specifically points to are the older DfE statistics on children in care in England from the year to March 2010.

However, the official figures on the total number of children in care do not match up with these claims. The DfE report says that 60,300 children were being looked after by local authorities in 2006, whereas the Sun's figures of 59,890 for 2006 simply do not appear on the report.

However, for the Sun's figures on the number of adoptions, it should be noted that by "last year", the piece would mean "figures for 2009", due to its earlier publishing date. However, still, the DfE report reveals that 3,300 children were adopted in 2010, which was down by only 100 from the year before. Not, as the Sun claims, by 500.

As there was a decrease of 500 adopted children between 2006 and 2010, this might explain the incorrect statistics as a misreading.


The figures in the Independent did not match up with the official statistics for adoptions or children in care. Full Fact has contacted the author and is awaiting further clarification.

However the claims do match those in a Sun article published two years ago which itself contained dubious claims. This combined with the fact that the figures have changed since then can only add to the confusion.

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