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Children in care figures hit new peak

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The number of children in council care has hit its highest level for 15 years, according to figures from the Department for Education.

The data, published on Tuesday, showed 28,220 children were placed in care in 2011-12, a rise of 3% from the 2010-11 figure and of 21% since 2007-08.

It also showed the total number of looked-after children has risen by 13% since March 2008, and has increased by 2% in the past year.  There were 67,050 looked-after children in March 2012, the data showed.

A report by the DfE said: “The number of looked-after children has increased steadily each year since 2008 and is now higher than at any point since 1997.”

Several council chief executives have privately expressed concerns about the cost of the rising number of children in care, which they believe is a result of social workers’ reactions to the death of Peter Connelly, known as Baby P, in 2007. Some chiefs have warned that welfare cuts could cause the numbers to rise even further.

The DfE report also said the number of children being adopted had this year reached its highest level since 2007, with a rise of 12% since 2011. However, it said, this number was likely to fall next year because the number of children being placed for adoption had dropped.  

Analysis of the data by LGC showed the highest percentage increases in the number of children in care since 2008 have been in Nottinghamshire CC (76% rise from 455 to 800), Wolverhampton City Council (64% rise from 350 to 575) and Durham CC (61% rise from 410 to 660.)

However, it also showed 33 councils have seen their number of children in care fall since 2008, of which 18 are London boroughs. They include Croydon (29% fall from 1,045 to 745), Hammersmith and Fulham (29% fall from 315 to 225) and Newham (25% fall from 595 to 445.)

Caroline Dawes, head of children’s services at London Councils, said she was aware of the trend in the capital and the organisation had commissioned research - as yet ongoing - into the factors behind it. She said one of the causes of the falling numbers could be a shift towards early intervention schemes by many London boroughs, but that the research would show whether there were other issues.

Since 2011, the biggest rises in the number of children in care have been in Bedford BC (30% rise from 165 to 215), Bournemouth BC (25% rise from 200 to 250) and Durham CC (25% rise from 530 to 660). The biggest reductions have been in Richmond upon Thames LBC (17% fall from 90 to 75), Croydon LBC (12% fall from 845 to 745) and Southend-on-Sea BC (11% fall from 270 to 240.)

The DfE report also showed:

  • 75% of all looked-after children, at 31 March 2012, were in foster care
  • 27,350 children ceased to be looked after during 2011-2012, a 1% rise from the 2011 figure and a 12% rise from 2008
  • 74% of looked-after children were from a white British background
  • 9% were in secure units, children’s homes and hostels
  • The number of looked-after children adopted fell each year between 2009 and 2011 but was higher in 2012 than in any year since 2007

Colin Green, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ committee on families,communities and young people, said: “The rising numbers may reflect better awareness of the risk of abuse and neglect among professionals and the public. However, there is no getting away from the fact that the increase puts an enormous pressure on budgets in children’s services and across local authorities at a time when resources are reducing.

“The increased focus on adoption and speeding up the process to permanence will have an effect on the number and characteristics of children who remain looked after and this may pose additional challenges to funding support services for those with more complex needs.”

LGC has compiled a searchable map of the number of children in care by local authority area. The colour-coding relates to the 2012 figures.

View Looked-after children, 2008-12 in a full screen map 

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