Baby P effect takes children in care numbers to 25-year high, says NAO ~ Rajeev Syal and agencies, The Guardian, Thursday 27 November.
Local authorities in England were looking after 68,110 children in March 2013 – a 14% increase since 2008, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) said.
The rapid rise in children in care followed coverage of Baby P’s death in 2007, the report noted. Almost every local authority said they were expecting or experiencing an increase in referrals linked to child sexual exploitation after high-profile cases in Rotherham and other towns, auditors said.
The NAO said that while demand for care continues to rise and varies “significantly” across the country, the Department for Education has not shown it is meeting its targets for improving care for foster children and those in residential homes.
There had also been “no improvement” in the last four years in getting children into the right placement first time, the report said.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Most children are taken into care because of abuse and neglect. But too many of them are not getting the right placements the first time.
“If their complex and challenging learning and development needs are not correctly assessed and tackled, the result is likely to be significant long-term detriment to the children themselves as well as cost to society. No progress has been made in the last four years.”
Peter Connelly, who was known as Baby P in court, died in north London, on 3 August 2007 at the hands of his mother, Tracey Connelly, her partner, Steven Barker, and their lodger, Jason Owen.
He had suffered more than 50 injuries despite being on the at-risk register and receiving 60 visits from social workers, police and health professionals over the final eight months of his life.
According to the auditors, the number of children in care is now the highest since records are available from 1990.
It found that nearly two thirds (62%) of children in care were there because they had suffered abuse or neglect. Three quarters (75%) of those in care were fostered.
In total, £2.5bn was spent supporting children in foster and residential care in 2012/13 – a 3% increase in real terms since 2010/11. The report found 34% of children in care had more than one placement in 2012/13 – the same proportion as 2009.
The government also failed to place children within 20 miles of their home in 14% of foster cases and 34% of those in residential care, the report claimed. Seventy nine residential homes were rated as inadequate by Ofsted in 2012/13, according to the report.
Educational achievements of children in care compare badly to the rest of the population, the report found. Some 15% of children in care achieved five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C including mathematics and English in 2012/13, compared with 58% of children not in care.
Meanwhile, 34% of 19-year-olds who were in care aged 16 were not in employment, education or training at the end of 2013 – compared with 15.5% of 18-year-olds, the watchdog added.
Edward Timpson, the children and families minister, said the report was fundamentally flawed. He said: “This report ignores the very real progress that has been made in transforming the life chances of children in care.
“It is a fact that since 2010, children in care are doing better at school and absences from school have decreased. Foster children can also now stay at home until the age of 21, and this year a record number of children found places in stable, loving homes through adoption,” he said.