If sex education isn't made compulsory, newborn babies from teenage mothers will keep being taken into care

We are faced with a cycle of failure that can have serious long-term consequences for individual children, society and our economy

Lucy Powell
Wednesday 16 December 2015 10:17 GMT
There has been a rise in newborns being taken into care
There has been a rise in newborns being taken into care (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


This week, a hidden problem in our care system was brought to light. New research has found that the number of new-born babies subject to care proceedings has more than doubled over five years. What is more, some women have been caught in a destructive cycle with child after child removed. Some mothers have even become pregnant again while care proceedings for their first child were still ongoing.

It is absolutely right that timely action is taken where a child is deemed at risk. But more and more children taken into care at birth can surely only be seen as an abject failure of the system and society.

While the reasons underpinning this dramatic rise are unclear – something that the Government must urgently explore – there is one thing we do know: the human and economic costs are severe. Children who have been let down and taken into care are often more likely to struggle and underachieve at school and not fulfil their potential. In the future, if they become mums and dads themselves, they are often not able to provide a stable home life for their children. It is a cycle of failure that can have serious long-term consequences for individual children, society and our economy.

It is truly alarming that history is being allowed to repeat itself this way. But if we simply lay the blame at the door of individuals, we will fail to learn the lessons that could help us to break the destructive cycle that these families find themselves in. As the report yesterday highlights, we must consider that mothers rarely get any professional help after their children are removed, despite the fact that many are severely emotionally damaged.

For some, the desire to replace the baby that has been taken away has only become stronger. Many of these mums were teenagers when they had their first child. With each new piece of research, it becomes harder to fathom how the Government can maintain its current position on refusing to ensure that all children in state-funded schools are taught age appropriate sex and relationships education.

Furthermore, this is not the only cycle that must be broken. The number of children entering care is now rising overall and this is placing children’s services under considerable strain. Much of the provision is already poor, with Ofsted judging three quarters of those services they have inspected to be requires improvement or inadequate.

The Government has today announced that failing children’s services will be taken over. It is right that failure is confronted and welcome that the important work that social workers and others do in protecting the most vulnerable children is now something Ministers want to talk about, after five and half years of saying and doing very little. Instead, over that same period they have stripped back many innovative early intervention services, aimed at preventing children going into care in the first place.

Parental programmes, children’s mental health services, drug and alcohol programmes, domestic violence support – all vital services that might stop families or a parent reaching crisis point have been hollowed out up and down the country. Hundreds of Sure Start children’s centres have been lost, leaving many vulnerable families without the support they need. Without a doubt, this is now taking its toll on our care system later down the line.

Time and time again, this Government has damaged early intervention services and failed to deal with the root causes of rising levels of children and babies in care and families in crisis. As a result, it is simply disingenuous for them now to pretend that this announcement will come anywhere near to driving the substantial improvements that our system needs. Demand is growing but resource is dwindling.

It is high time the Government fundamentally starts to rethink how we keep children safe from abuse and harm, putting better early intervention at the centre of its programme for reform. Without this, their legacy on social care will be something we can all ill afford.

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