A rise in the number of children being taken into care and subject to child protection referrals in Scotland is due to a greater awareness of parents with substance misuse problems, the Association of Directors of Social Work says.
Figures published by the Scottish executive last week show a 4 per cent rise in the number of looked-after children in 2004-5 and a 9 per cent increase in referrals to child protection registers.
But the number of children referred to registers because of physical injury fell 15 per cent and the overall number on the registers fell by 4 per cent, although four out of five were aged under 11.
Bernadette Docherty, chair of ADSW’s children and families committee, said the figures reflected more awareness in recent years among the public, professionals and child protection committees of the vulnerability of children living with drug misusing parents.
High-profile cases such as the death of 11-week-old Caleb Ness, whose parents had substance misuse problems, had brought the issue into the spotlight, Docherty added.
“Very young children are at greatest risk and these cases are now finding their way to social work departments,” she said. “We are seeing a growth in concerns about this problem and this is being expressed in these statistics.”
The figures also reveal that secure accommodation costs grew by 8 per cent to an estimated £16.6m last year following a 13 per cent rise in admissions. However, discharges rose by a fifth and a third of those in secure accommodation were detained for less than one month.
Docherty said there was “considerable” concern about the issue and warned councils were struggling to cope with the ever-growing costs of secure accommodation.
Statistics on the educational performance of looked-after children were more encouraging, however, with the proportion of care leavers achieving GCSE-equivalent passes rising from 42 per cent to 45 per cent. More care leavers were also going on to work, training and further education.
The figures also reveal a fall in the percentage of care leavers still in touch with local authorities who have had experience of homelessness since leaving care.