January 2012 saw the highest ever number of care applications recorded in an individual month and professionals say the pressure is mounting
By Jessica Fuhl
April 11, 2012 / guardian.co.uk
The number of applications to take children into care in England has hit 10,000 in a year for the first time, according to figures released by the children and family court advisory and support service (Cafcass).
The courts service received over 10,000 new applications from local councils to place children in care between April 2011 and March 2012, a 10% increase on the same period last financial year.
January 2012 saw the highest number of care applications ever recorded in an individual month, with 912 applications. Applications received between May 2011 to February 2012 have been the highest ever recorded by Cafcass for these individual months. Last year 9,202 applications were made in total.
Numbers have been rising since the infamous Baby P case in 2008, and it was predicted that figures would reach the 10,000 mark before the end of the financial year in February.
Anthony Douglas, the Cafcass chief executive, said the figures "have really tested the resilience of staff and systems.
"This rise shows that all agencies are working more quickly to ensure that children are removed from deeply damaging households where many have been for some time and are showing a lower tolerance for poor parenting."
Douglas added: "All agencies need to realise we have to change the way we work collectively if the most vulnerable children in the country are to continue to receive strong public services in these tough times."
Maggie Siviter, a spokeswoman for the College of Social Work, said that the rise may be a result of cutbacks in early intervention services.
She said that other reasons may include a "better understanding of potential risk of harm or more support for social workers" but added that local authorities should be reviewing all frontline child protection services to ensure they have the resources to accommodate them.
Debbie Jones, president of the association of directors of children's services (ADCS) also blamed the rise on budget cuts and said that pressure is mounting across the system.
"The overall rise in the number of care applications is not surprising, and part of a longer term trend, but the dramatic rate at which cases are increasing is worrying because of the increased pressure on the child protection and care systems.
"The sustained increase in care applications over the last three years has been mirrored by a rise in referrals to child protection teams and a rise in the overall care population and the resource implications of pressure across the system is staggering.
"This is happening at a time when local authorities are experiencing substantial budget reductions, and while many local authorities have sought to protect spending on child protection, the increases are putting serious strain on budgets.
Jones explained, however, that other factors may have affected the rise in applications: "Public and political focus on adoption and on the role of social workers may have increased public and professional awareness of the prevalence of children at risk."
She added: "Increasing financial pressures on families may be increasing the risk of welfare concerns escalating – local authorities are working with families to try and prevent care proceedings being necessary, but must be willing to take action where children are at risk of significant harm."