Cost of putting children in care blamed for assaults on under-10s

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The Independent Online

The number of assaults on children under the age of 10 has risen significantly in the last year, according to a study of hospital admissions.

A report by Cardiff University, which gathers data from 44 accident and emergency wards in England and Wales, found that, while serious violence fell in 2009, the number of victims aged 10 and under rose by nearly 10 per cent. The study showed that 431 children were admitted to hospital after being assaulted last year. This is an increase of 8 per cent, from 399 in 2008.

Researchers at Cardiff say that, if extrapolated, their figures show that an estimated 2,814 children under 10 in England and Wales were the victims of violence in 2009. One reason for the rise, they suggest, is an increase in the cost of taking children into care, meaning that children have to remain in violent family homes longer.

From April 2008 the fee local authorities had to pay the family courts for starting care proceedings increased from £150 to £4,825. In the first six months of the rise, there was a 20 per cent drop in local authorities applying to take children in to care. Last month Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, announced that the fees would be scrapped in April 2011 following a review.

Professor Jonathan Shepherd, from Cardiff University, said: "The anecdotal evidence we are getting from hospitals tells us that this is a real increase. The question is why. One explanation is that it is more difficult for children to be taken into care by local authorities, and that may mean more young children are staying in risky home situations than they were before."

That proposal is backed by the Association of Lawyers for Children. Barbara Hopkin, a spokeswoman for the organisation, said: "A lot of local authorities now tend to wait for a situation to escalate before acting. The cost increase means that the decision to remove a child is going higher up the chain because someone has to justify spending so much money."

“However, the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) rejects the theory, pointing out that there has been a recent increase in the number of requests for children to be taken into care. It has been suggested that this is a direct result of the case of Baby Peter. The subsequent criticism of Haringey Council has prompted other local authorities to act quickly. But the ADCS says it does not believe that is the case as the increase began before November 2008 - when the Baby Peter case became public.

The study also shows that there has been a small increase – 2.7 per cent – to the number of 18- to 30-year-olds receiving treatment following violent attacks. This age group comprises about 25,000 people, which is half of all victims.

The Cardiff study is particularly worthy of note because the level of serious violence it indicates differs hugely from the levels the police report. This is because, while many victims of serious violence will require hospital treatment, not all victims go to the police. This can be because they do not want a friend or loved one to get into trouble, or often for fear that their own criminal conduct will fall under scrutiny.

However, in the case of the figures surrounding children, the Cardiff study is perhaps the only way that violence against children in Britain can be monitored since children do not – and in many cases cannot – report crime.

Chris Cloke, the NSPCC's head of child protection awareness, said: "It is worrying that there is an increase in the number of children brought to hospital with injuries from violence. We need to understand the reasons for this increase, but it is yet another reminder that children of all ages experience violence.

"Such information must be passed to all professionals involved so that any necessary action can be taken to protect that child. We know that, in too many cases where children have suffered serious harm, signs of possible abuse were not properly shared or acted on."