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'Baby Peter effect' pushes care figures higher

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The number of children in care went up by 6% in 2009-10 compared to the previous year, new statistics show.

Data from the Department for Education shows 64,400 were being looked after at the end of March this year.

Children’s minister Tim Loughton (Con), left, said the statistics indicated that councils’ children’s services departments were “still experiencing fallout from the Baby Peter case” and that pressures would “remain challenging”.

“I recognise there are concerns about funding, but that’s why it’s more important than ever that we make the best use of our most valuable resource – social workers – and trust them to get on with their vital job at the sharp end,” he said.

“They need more support and greater professional freedom so that they are able to spend more time with children and make well-informed judgements.”

The statistics showed that 52% of children were placed in care because of abuse or neglect, an increase on the 2009 figures.

Of the children being looked after, by councils 3,400 were unaccompanied asylum seekers, and 350 were mothers aged 12 and above.

Seventy-three percent of children being looked after were in a foster placement.

Parallel statistics, also released today, showed that 607,500 children believed to be in need were referred to council social services staff during 2009-10, and that as of March 31 there were 35,700 children subject to a protection plan.

Mr Loughton said that while there had been an increase in referrals, there had not been a “significant increase” in the number of children needing a child protection plan.

“Everyone knows that it is both much better for children, and more cost-effective for local authorities, if problems with vulnerable families are identified earlier so that children who do not require formal child protection get the help they need at an early stage,” he said.

He said that MP Graham Allen’s (Lab) independent review of early intervention would look at how lessons from the best-performing councils could be shared across the country.

Mr Loughton’s comments will bolster a call from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services for early-intervention programmes to have their funding protected for the first two years of the Spending Review period.

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