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Statement on the differences between Office for National Statistics and Ministry of Justice figures on adoptions

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Statistical notice: Statement on the differences between Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures on adoptions.

Issue date: 18 July 2013
Type: Statement


1. National Statistics on adoptions in England and Wales are published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published adoption statistics until 2005, but this was discontinued due to concerns about the accuracy of the data recording systems used by courts at that time. Since then a new system has been introduced. During the transition period complete and accurate data was not available through the central MoJ data systems. These data issues have now been substantially resolved. 

2. MoJ statistics present the number of adoption applications lodged at courts in England and Wales, and the number of adoption orders and other disposals of adoption cases made by the courts. The data are sourced directly from the court administrative system FamilyMan, which is used by court staff for case management purposes. This data system contains information including the adopter’s relationship to the child, and the duration of the case, allowing the production of detailed statistics for interested users.  Figures are published in Court Statistics (quarterly) available at:

3. ONS statistics record the number of adoptions entered onto the General Register Office’s (GRO) Adopted Children Register. GRO receives copies of adoption orders issued by the courts for the purposes of maintaining this register. Only limited demographic information about adopted children is available through this source. The latest publication can be found at:

4. The Department for Education publishes limited statistics on adoption in England, covering only adoptions of children who have been looked after by Local Authorities. The latest publication can be found at: The Welsh Government publishes similar figures on adoptions of looked-after children in Wales. The latest publication can be found at:

Reconciling the two sets of statistics

5. During the transition period over 2009/2010 when courts were starting to implement the new administrative data systems not all adoption orders made were recorded on the system, resulting in MoJ figures held for adoptions being around 15% lower than those published by ONS. Since 2011 all courts dealing with family matters in England and Wales have been using the Familyman administrative system and hand-written notifications of adoptions to GRO have been phased out. This has resulted in figures for the ONS and MoJ being much closer.

6. The number of adoption orders indicated by the two sets of statistics are similar but do not match exactly. For example, the total number of adoptions (including foreign adoptions) indicated by the GRO/ONS statistics in 2011 was 4,756, compared to 4,566 in the MoJ figures – a difference of 4%. Many of the ‘missing’ MoJ orders have been identified as hand-written notifications from courts that had been unable to fully implement the new administrative system by 2011. This issue has now been addressed, reducing the discrepancy for subsequent years.

7. ONS, GRO and MoJ have worked closely together over the past year to reconcile the two sets of statistics as far as possible. Both GRO and MoJ have agreed to continue monitoring and working to ensure the data held by each is as accurate as possible.

8. Extensive comparison of the two datasets indicated that there is no single reason for the remaining difference in the two sets of figures, and that at a court level any differences are small and widely distributed across all courts. As the information is derived from a live case management system, there are multiple possible factors such as forms and updates not being sent to GRO or ONS, data entry problems, differences in designating adoptions as ‘foreign’ and other possible administrative errors that may contribute to the different published figures.

9. ONS and MoJ are content that separate sets of statistics should be published by each department, because they exist to serve different and distinct purposes and because the differences are relatively small and are likely to reduce further. MoJ now publishes statistics on the volume and timeliness of adoption cases dealt with in courts, and is able to provide users with a detailed breakdown on the adopter’s relationship to the child. ONS statistics provide users with some demographic data about adopted children, and these complement the range of other demographic statistics produced by the department such as births, deaths, marriages, divorces and civil partnerships.

Contact details and further information

 For queries, comments or further information on the issues set out in this note, please contact:

Vital Statistics Output Branch
Life Events and Population Sources Division
Office for National Statistics
Segensworth Road
Hampshire PO15 5RR
Tel: +44 (0)1329 444110

Justice Statistics Analytical Services
Ministry of Justice
7th floor,
102 Petty France
London SW1H 9AJ
Tel: +44 (0)20 3334 3737


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