Children in care figure tops 10,000

 

The annual number of new applications to take children into care has passed the 10,000 mark for the first time, new figures show.

Councils in England launched 886 legal proceedings to remove at-risk youngsters from their families in March, taking the 12-month total to 10,199.

The very high numbers demonstrate the continuing impact of the Baby P tragedy on local authorities since full details of the case were made public in November 2008.

Cafcass, the agency which looks after children's interests in the family courts, said the figures showed that agencies were working more quickly to remove vulnerable youngsters from damaging households.

Total new care applications between April 2011 and March 2012 were up 10.8% from 9,202 in the same period in 2010-11 - and soared 57.2% from the 2008-09 tally of 6,488.

Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas said: "This is the first time care demand figures have broken the 10,000 mark over a 12-month period.

"These consistently high figures for the year have really tested the resilience of our staff and our systems, but we have continued to be a strong organisation that serves the best interests of children.

"While Cafcass gathers this information and is of course impacted by the scale of this increase, all agencies need to realise we have to change the way we work collectively if the most vulnerable children in the country are to continue to receive strong public services in these tough times.

"Having said that, this rise shows that all agencies are working more quickly to ensure that children are removed from deeply damaging households where many have been for some time and are showing a lower tolerance for poor parenting."

Tom Rahilly, the NSPCC's head of strategy and development for looked after children, added: "Whilst the continued high level of care applications looks dramatic, we must remember that the majority of children come into care as a result of abuse or neglect.

"Care provides a safe and supportive environment for these children. This continued rise could simply indicate people are being more alert to situations where children are at risk, which can only be a positive development."

Baby P - now named as Peter Connelly - was just 17 months old when he died in Tottenham, north London, at the hands of his mother Tracey, her violent partner Steven Barker and his brother Jason Owen on August 3, 2007.

He suffered more than 50 injuries despite being on the at-risk register and receiving 60 visits from social workers, police and health professionals over an eight-month period.

Family Rights Group, a charity which offers advice about social services, said the care system was "struggling to cope" with the rising application numbers.

Chief executive Cathy Ashley said: "There are court delays, children being put in temporary placements or moved around with little notice, siblings are being split up and there are a significant shortage of foster carers.

"Family Rights Group knows from the rising calls to our advice service and recent research that in some of these cases more could and should be done to have kept children safely with their family.

"The closure of key early intervention and preventative services, such as refuge places for abused mothers, is worsening this terrible situation."

Barnardo's deputy chief executive Jane Stacey said: "While the increase in the number of children being referred into care might seem alarming, I am pleased that decisions are being made more quickly to remove children from damaging situations.

"We must intervene early to support parents but where this is not effective, action must be taken.

"Care can and does improve the lives of vulnerable children. This is why it is essential that we ensure that there are more foster or adoptive parents available to provide them with a stable and loving home."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We know that care applications remain at very high levels.

"These decisions are never taken lightly - but the bottom line is that children's welfare must be paramount and they must be protected as early as possible from risk and abuse.

"There is absolutely no evidence that children are being taken into care unnecessarily."

PA

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