Rise in children in care since Baby P

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The Independent Online

The number of children in care has dramatically risen following the death of Baby Peter, official statistics showed yesterday.

There are now 64,400 looked-after children, an increase of 6 per cent since 2009 and 7 per cent since 2006. Overall 27,800 children went into care during the year ending 31 March 2010. This was an increase of 8 per cent from the year ending 31 March 2009 and 13 per cent from the year ending 31 March 2006.

The publication of the figures comes after child protection leaders warned that services were at risk of being overwhelmed by a big increase in the number of at-risk children referred to social workers or removed from their families. The Association of Directors of Children's Services argued that rising workloads since the Baby Peter case and funding cuts are putting unsustainable pressures on budgets. It called on ministers to ringfence funding for early intervention projects.

Peter Connolly died in August 2007 aged 17 months after suffering more than 50 injuries over an eight-month period, during which he was repeatedly seen by social workers and health professionals. His mother Tracey Connelly, her lover Steven Barker and his brother Jason Owen were jailed in May 2009 for causing or allowing Peter's death. Social workers decided not to take the toddler into care after wrongly concluding Connelly was a "caring but inadequate" mother who just needed support and his injuries were probably caused by lack of supervision.

The children's charity Barnardo's called on the Government to accept that these higher numbers of children in care were not a temporary blip, arguing that it showed that local authorities were now taking a tougher stance against suspected abusive or neglectful parents.

Martin Narey, chief executive at Barnardo's, said: "It is encouraging that the tendency to give parents the benefit of the doubt when making decisions about the safe care of children appears to have been arrested, but it must not return.

"It is vital social workers make decisions in the best interests of children and are not subject to media, political and public pressure to keep families together at almost any cost. The Government should accept that the number of children in care might have to remain at the current higher level."