The annual number of local authority care applications has hit an all-time high, breaking the 10,000 mark, according to the latest Cafcass figures.
The family courts body received 10,199 new applications between April 2011 and March 2012, a 10.8% rise on the same period last year. It is the first time the organisation has received more than 10,000 referrals in one year.
Local authorities in England made 886 care applications last month, just 10 short of the highest figure ever recorded for March. January 2012 recorded the highest ever number for a single month, with 912 care applications.
Referrals have risen consistently since November 2008 when news broke of the death of Baby Peter in Haringey. The furore surrounding the child’s death has often been cited as a reason for the increase in care applications.
“These consistently high figures for the year have really tested the resilience of our staff and our systems, but we have continued to be a strong organisation that serves the best interests of children,” said Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas.
The referrals spike shows agencies have a lower tolerance for poor parenting and are working more quickly to ensure children are removed earlier from damaging homes, Douglas said.
But agencies also “need to realise we have to change the way we work collectively if the most vulnerable children are to receive strong public services in these tough times,” he said.
Child protection work is now facing a “major crisis”, according to Sue Kent, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, who said soaring referrals combined with government cuts are preventing social workers from doing their jobs properly.
Social workers have been turned into administrators because of cuts to support staff, while cuts to preventive services are preventing social workers from intervening with struggling families at an earlier stage, Kent said.
Instead families are being allowed to “flounder until the care system has to intervene to protect the children”, she said.
“We urge the government to wake up and help a situation that is of their making. If things don’t improve, they will see a major exodus of social workers leaving the profession, as they are facing increasing and intolerable pressure,” Kent warned.
(Pic posed by model)
Baby Peter case in Haringey