Thursday, 15 March 2012
Wednesday, 14 March 2012
This week, the coalition government has announced that councils are to be issued with score cards to measure how quickly they place children for adoption. Councils that fail to speed up adoption processes will be punished. The scorecards will track how long it takes local authorities to find kids a care home.
The overall aim – to try to ensure that children, often damaged by their life experience to date, find a new home in a caring and committed family – is surely unobjectionable. But, the government’s use of a single primary target – time taken – provides a very real danger of substituting speed for quality and appropriateness.
Isn’t this the same government which railed against, and then removed, the maximum 18 week targets for hospital in-patient treatment on the grounds that the target distorted good health services? Of course, since those targets were removed, the number of people waiting longer has shot up, nationally and locally.
Although, generally, a shorter time for treatment or adoption is a good thing, that does not always apply to the specific case. I well remember a GP telling me to be wary of the surgeon with the shortest waiting-list; he was likely to be the one who GPs suspected – evidence-based or otherwise – of producing the least satisfactory outcomes for patients and, therefore, was receiving the least referrals.
Children in care and adopters are not commodities to be processed as quickly as possible. The focus has to be on the quality of adoption rather than speed. Of course, time is one element, but quality of long-term success is far more important. Just think about the pressure that councils will now be under to place individual children rather than placing siblings together. I can already see the next set of headlines “Government target forces family break-up. Council told to ensure adoption of siblings in different families, rather than take an extra month to keep them all together.”
There are already five times more children waiting for adoption than there are adopters. The law currently requires 140 pages of assessments and many delays arise, not because of a council’s performance but because of lengthy court delays. There must be a determined attempt to identify and remove any systemic barriers. And, of course, sometimes adoption is not the right answer.
Adoption must be driven by what’s right for the child, not what’s the whim of a government minister.
Monday, 12 March 2012
Many people will be familiar with the weekly theatre of Prime Minister’s Questions – the weekly theatre, where the Leader of the opposition party and a small number of MPs, chosen by ballot get to put questions to the Prime Minister. It regularly features in the national broadcast and print media. I know that some people – including many overseas - watch it on the Parliamentary TV channel.
Far less attention is given to other Parliamentary questions and, more importantly, answers– both written and oral – which MPs ask to get information about policies and performance. Sometimes, this is like a game of cat and mouse, as Ministers try to find ways of avoiding giving answers which they know are embarrassing or unhelpful.
Here are some examples of questions I’ve asked and answers I’ve received recently, which shine some light on the real impact of government policies and show where the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality.
Eric Pickles – the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government – has been telling us for nearly two years about the massive public clamour to keep or return to weekly refuse collection services. So, I asked him how many people had written to him about the issue from South Yorkshire. Well, just two from Sheffield – and one of those was Nick Clegg; I wonder who the other one was; perhaps it’s a case for Sherlock Holmes! – and no-one from Barnsley, Doncaster or Rotherham.
I also asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many households in Sheffield and South Yorkshire will lose their entitlement to working families’ tax credit from 6 April 2012 due to the government’s change in the minimum working hours’ criterion – from 16 to 24 hours per week. The answer is 2200 families in Sheffield and 5000 in South Yorkshire. And they are going to lose more than £75 p wk – a massive cut in the income of some of the lowest income working families.
I also asked the Secretary of State for Transport what plans she has to bring forward new legislation to deal with rogue companies who are offering to – or sell the equipment to - clock the recorded mileage of motor vehicles. Thousands of buyers of second-hand cars are being ripped off each year by unscrupulous sellers and dealers who cut the recorded mileage. She told me that she’s going to do nothing more, although MOT test certificates will in future show the recorded mileage at the last three tests. Not good enough!