National Database

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at on 21 November 2001.

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Children can disappear in the system and there are some terrible cases to prove it. There are no centrally held records and on average a child moves around three times a year, sometimes beyond their local authority's boundary. There are approximately 100,000 children who are looked-after during the average year, around 58,000 at any one time. A large number return to their birth families, others go back into care once again, yet others move within foster care or residential care, or on into adoption.

Record-keeping is thus difficult and, not surprisingly, notoriously poor. It is not clear how local authorities do keep track of their charges. This problem is highlighted in the first annual report of the new Adoption Taskforce which confirms that a good tracking system is desirable. It cites that one model has been developed by the Catholic Children's Society Nottingham.

The Government has said from the beginning of its work on improving the adoption system that what was needed was ``better grip'', that it wants to prevent children ``drifting'' in care and introduce timescales. In the Prime Minister's Review of Adoption (on p.52) it states:

``There is a lack of external monitoring, review and stimulus to ensure timely progress.''

And on p.53:

``What is needed is a wide range of interventions targeted on tackling the causes of poor performance.''

We believe that one of the ways to ensure that this becomes reality is to have a tracking system that will monitor children's progress.

This Bill is entitled the Adoption and Children Bill, a reference to the fact that not all children in care will find an answer in adoption. Their fate, as has been much discussed by all concerned since the start of the Prime Minister's Review of Adoption, deserves equal attention.

The All Party Parliament Group on Adoption has supported the notion of a national statistical database that would act as a tracking mechanism for all looked-after children.

A centrally-held statistical system should record each child's elementary details, entry in to care, duration, place of care, moves, care order (or other court directions), and care plan decision.

These statistics would ensure that:

—there was less chance of children going missing

—improvements to tackling of delay in the system

—there was a further check that plans are both made and fulfilled

—there was a reliable method of monitoring outcomes

—there was extra provision for assisting the new court system

Clause 13: provision could be made for the collection of the specific statistics discussed above to be gathered in a national database.