Monday, November 24, 2008

Care cases 'soaring after Baby P'

Above Baby P

The number of applications for children to be taken into care in England has risen sharply after the case of Baby P, government agency Cafcass has said.

The body, which safeguards children's interests in court, says the "Baby P effect" has had an "unprecedented" impact on council care applications.

There were 369 requests in the 10 days after the trial, compared with 292 in the same period last year - a 26% rise.

Baby P died, aged 17 months, in August 2007 after suffering sustained abuse.


The chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory Service (Cafcass), Anthony Douglas, told BBC News that care applications often rose after a high-profile case of child abuse.

However, what he called "the Baby P effect" had led to what he called "unprecedented" significant increases in the number of applications.

"This is unprecedented in the sense that it is more significant than we have seen in other cases," he said.

Mr Douglas said the rise could be explained by "changes in the thresholds" that abuse cases are judged by, before a decision is made to take children into care.

He explained: "The cases have to meet the threshold criteria that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer from, significant harm.

"Significant harm is a hard thing to define, but everyone is on high alert."

Mr Douglas said this heightened state of alert could lead to some children "getting a greater degree of protection".

But he warned that the "outrage" generated by the Baby P case could also have a negative effect.

"It would be outrageous not to be outraged in a case like this, but outrage can lead to...defensive practice because it sows professional doubt, and unnecessary and risk-averse interventions can harm children and families as well," he said.


In a statement, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) said the decision to take children into care was made on a "case-by-case basis."

It said: "The extensive checks and balances in the care and adoption systems combine to ensure that care and adoption orders are only made after proper scrutiny of local authorities' work and proposals."

"A court may only make a care order if it is satisfied that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm and this is due to the care given to the child by the parents."

The DCSF said the number of children aged 0-4 entering the care system had remained at the same level - about 8,700 each year - over the past five years.

Baby P died despite 60 visits from authorities in Haringey, north London, during an eight-month period

There has been criticism of the council's decision not to take the toddler into care, and Children's Secretary Ed Balls has ordered an urgent inquiry into the borough's child welfare services.

On 11 November, Jason Owen, 36, from Bromley, the 32-year-old boyfriend of the boy's mother were found guilty of causing Baby P's death.

The boy's mother had previously pleaded guilty to the same charge.

Cafcass also released figures on Monday showing that, prior to the Baby P court case, the total number of care applications had effectively fallen by 20% since 2004.

The body says this is due to "the search for better outcomes for vulnerable children", other than being placed in care.

These include more use of kinship care and earlier intervention to provide support for families causing concern.

Source: BBC

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