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Child adoptions in England and Wales

How many are adopted, how old and were they born inside marriage? 

The number of adoptions in England and Wales is up – but how are they changing?

According to the latest figures, published today by the Office for National Statistics, the number of adoptions in England and Wales in 2011 was 4,734, an increase of 6% since 2010 when there were 4,481 adoptions. It’s the first time the ONS has published this data for both countries.

It’s prompted this reaction from John Simmonds at the British Association for Adoption & Fostering:

“It is good to see this percentage increase. It will be highly significant for every child where an adoption order was made. But the figures are made up of children adopted from care, from abroad and by step parents. So some caution should exercised in interpreting what they might mean. It is to be hoped that the figures indicate the beginning of an upward trend”.

Adoption was raised by David Cameron last year, who compared the small numbers to the huge ones of children taken into care. There were fewer babies adopted in 2011 – down from 86 to 77 – than in 2010. So how have the numbers changed?

While adoptions of newborn babies have gone down as an overall percentage since the 1970s, the proportion of children aged one to four who were adopted has steadily increased since 1998. In 2011, 62% of children adopted were aged one to four, compared with 34% in 1998.

One of the accepted truths of the 1970s is that there was more shame in a child being born outside wedlock then than there is now. And while that may be true, the adoption figures are counter what you might expect. In 1976, around 50% of babies adopted were born outside marriage – now the figure is 82%.

But there are big changes happening in the way we have babies too – in 2011, 47% of all babies born in England and Wales were to parents who weren’t married.

So, there are fewer babies born to married parent; and they are less likely to be put up for adoption.

Annoyingly the ONS doesn’t collect data on who the children go to – so we can’t tell yet the impact of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which allowed unmarried and same-sex couples to adopt.

There has been a very subtle change in adoptions – before 1999 nearly every year saw more boys being adopted than girls, since 1999, every year except one has seen more girls adopted than boys.
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