Fears of another Baby P as child care cases soar

CASES of vulnerable children needing the protection of Yorkshire’s care services are rocketing to “unprecedented levels” as social workers warn public spending cuts are increasing the risk of another Baby P tragedy.

The number of children subject to protection plans has soared from 4.876 in 2009, to 6,535 this year, a rise of 34 per cent.

Nearly all of the region’s councils have seen big increases, the most significant being Leeds City Council with 157 per cent, then North Yorkshire County Council with 94 per cent.

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In 2008, there were fewer than 3,000 children subject to child protection plans in the region, currently there are nearly 2,300 in Hull alone.

Chief officers said a key factor in the spike in referrals was the reaction to the Baby P and Victoria Climbie tragedies, but they claimed it was too early to say whether the economic crisis was also contributing.

However the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said public spending cuts were having a significant impact on the pressure faced by front-line staff.

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the BASW, said that while front-line jobs were protected, the support systems were being dramatically eroded away.

“Front-line social workers are not an island,” she said. “Their jobs are being protected but many of the systems that support them – children’s centres, Sure Start centres, charity and third sector work –- are undertaking dramatic cutbacks and being eroded away.

“As we are seeing unprecedented levels of referrals, this is putting unprecedented pressure on the front-line staff.”

She warned: “This is not a criticism of the people on the front line – there are simply not enough resources to carry out the work that needs to be done. The Government is promoting an early intervention agenda, which we fully support, but in reality, on the ground that is not happening and that is very concerning.

“Many of our members tell us, they are simply on their knees and they are struggling to cope with the caseload.

“There will always be tragedies like Baby P, sadly we can never guarantee to stop that, but we are increasing the likelihood of another because we are taking away so many important layers of the system.”

Of the 14 councils in the region which have responsibility for child care, only three, Sheffield, Bradford and North Lincolnshire, reported decreases in the number of children currently registered.

Charities have called for frontline services to be properly resourced to protect children.

A spokeswoman for the NSPCC said: “Given the current budget pressures that local authorities face, the NSPCC is continuing to call for front-line services to be properly resourced to protect children and for continued support for vulnerable children and their families with issues such as neglect, domestic abuse and substance misuse.”

The councils have undertaken measures to cope with the increase in child protection plans – in Leeds the average number of cases has been cut from 25 to 20 per case worker by employing additional staff and developing partnerships with health and school professionals.

A spokeswoman for North Yorkshire County Council said: “We are keeping children on the register for longer,” she said.

“Indeed, one of our key actions in cases of domestic abuse is to keep children on the child protection register until the abuse is resolved; so it is possible that the increase is due to good practice rather than a rise in new cases.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We’ve given local authorities freedom over the £4.5bn children’s budget exactly so they can directly help those children and young people that need the most support.

“It is not for government to tell elected councillors how to do their job – they are accountable to local people and need to make careful, long-term judgments based on what is needed in their areas.”

• Background report in Saturday’s Yorkshire Post