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Number of children in care hits 24-year high

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The number of children in care has hit a 24-year high but adoption levels have fallen, new Department for Education figures have revealed.

According to the department, 65,520 children were in some form of care at the end of March this year, a 2% increase on last year’s figures and the highest level since 1987.

Almost three-quarters of looked-after children were in a foster placement, but the figures showed that just 3,050 children were adopted during the 2010-11 financial year, a 5% decrease on the previous year, and down 8% from 2007.

The increasing number of looked-after children is likely to be interpreted as the continuation of a trend that began with the publicity surrounding the Baby Peter tragedy, which came to prominence in 2008.

Sixty-two percent of the children in care on March 31 were described as being placed in care because of neglect.

Children’s minister Tim Loughton (Con) said he was particularly worried that adoption levels were continuing to fall and stressed the importance of council action.

“It’s simply not good enough for vulnerable children to be waiting well over two years to be adopted,” he said.

“It’s also concerning that for those children leaving care, around a third are not in education, employment or training – much higher than the general population.

“We’re determined to change this. New guidance, issued earlier this year, stripped away some of the myths blocking potentially suitable adoptions.

“A new adoption adviser, Martin Narey, is working to reduce delay in the system and help local authorities improve their practice.”

According to the figures, Manchester City Council had the highest proportion of looked after children, with 142 children in some form of care for every 10,000 in the authority.

However, despite the ranking, the authority had shown decreasing numbers of children in care over the past five years, with some 1,385 youngsters in care on March 31.

At 1,900, Birmingham City Council had the highest number of looked-after children, but the city’s figures demonstrated a continued decline from 2,100 in 2007.

Association of Directors of Children’s Services president Matt Dunkley said he believed the increasing number of children in care represented previously-unmet need, rather than a change in thresholds used by social workers in children’s safeguarding teams.

“These figures show the ever increasing pressure being faced by children’s social care services in local authorities,” he said.

“We know that many local authorities have decided, rightly, to protect child protection services in recent budget cuts, but that leaves some challenging choices elsewhere, particularly in investment in preventative and early intervention services that might help to reduce the numbers needing child protection services over time.”

He added that anecdotal evidence suggested that local authorities were applying for more adoption orders, but that delays in the courts system meant they were not reflected in the latest figures.

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