Social workers are intervening more quickly to protect vulnerable children in the wake of the Baby Peter case, according to an analysis of care cases by Cafcass.
Of the 343 cases examined by the family courts body for its Care Profiling Study, more than half (53%) of care proceedings involved families who had been in touch with social services for less than a year.
This is compared to 39% in a similar analysis of cases in 2009.
More than two-thirds (67%) of the 203 Cafcass guardians surveyed for the study believed the timing of the care applications was appropriate, compared to 54% in 2009.
The vast majority of guardians (85%) also believed care proceedings were the only viable course of action in the cases.
Guardians felt the application was late in just 29% of cases, a reduction from 43.9% in 2009, and premature in just 4% of cases.
The research also revealed that local authorities are coming to court more fully prepared and neglect cases in particular are being acted upon more quickly.
Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass, said the findings show that social services are acting more quickly to protect children in the wake of Baby Peter’s death.
“After the panic that came with the Baby Peter media storm, the intensive reviewing by local authorities of cases has paid off for children: the intervention they need is coming earlier and cases are drifting less,” Douglas said.
“You could have looked at this in 2010 and, as a lot of people did at the time, say services are not coping now so it’s going to be chaos in two years’ time.
“Well it may be very difficult but we’re still managing to get on top of most of the work. I think it shows that the system has become more resilient.”
Rising applications locally
But the report, which also reveals how the proportion of care applications has changed in each English council over the past five years, highlights how the pressure on the care system has been increasing in recent years.
In 2007/08 the average council made 5.8 care applications per 10,000 children but this has risen year after year to reach 9.2 applications per 10,000 children in 2011/12.
Douglas said this rise was driven by the “sea change” in practice since Baby Peter. “That, in itself, has other major consequences like the bigger shortage of placements and caseloads that are much higher, but at least more children are under the microscope.”
The local authority level data published in the report reveals that South Tyneside council has the highest level of care applications at 30.1 applications per 10,000 children in 2010/11.
The Isles of Scilly have the least with no applications per 10,000 children, followed by Rutland at 2.2 applications and the London Borough of Richmond with 2.4 applications.
A South Tyneside council spokesperson said: “Like many councils across the country, we have seen an increase in the number of child protection concerns being reported to us and have allocated additional staff and resources so that we can meet this demand.”
Cafcass: ‘Baby P effect’ evident in care case hikeCare applications to Cafcass hit all-time high