Anthony Douglas: Councils ‘risk averse after Baby P’

Councils have become more ‘risk averse’ following the Baby P case, prompting the sharp rise in care applications identified last week by Cafcass, its chief executive has said..

There were 369 applications between 10 and 20 November compared with 292 over the same period last year, and 330 in 2006. Baby P’s step-father and another man were convicted of causing or allowing his death on 11 November, a charge his mother had already pleaded guilty to.

Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas said councils had become more risk-averse in reaction to the case, in which agencies in Haringey, north London, were criticised for failing to protect the 17-month-old boy, who was on the child protection register.

Rise ‘not surprising’

“It would be very surprising if we weren’t seeing a rise – local authorities are very understandably worried about whether their thresholds are right,” he said.

The spike follows a significant fall in the number of care cases this year, on the back of reforms to the system designed to ensure councils take out proceedings as a last resort.

Between April and September, there were 2,568 applications for proceedings, compared with 3,199 over the same period in 2007.

Short-term spike

But Douglas predicted the rise would be short-term, claiming it would be “unprecedented” if it set a new upward trend. “No single case or adverse inspection has so far led to a fundamental long-term shift,” he said, pointing out that a similar rise in applications followed the Victoria Climbié case in 2000, also in Haringey.

Douglas said most applications involved children “on the edge of care”, with parents who had substance misuse or mental health problems rather than cases of physical abuse and neglect. “It’s thousands of these cases that councils are rightly worried about. It would be scaremongering to say they are Baby Ps in waiting,” he added.

Douglas also called for a review of the way children in potential need of protection were assessed, saying the Baby P case showed the “sheer difficulty” of assessing dangerous parents, who “persistently lie and deceive”.

More forensic and intrusive assessment model

He suggested a “more forensic and intrusive” model was needed for such cases.

Douglas said this could “go against the grain” for social work agencies, but he argued: “Section 47 assessments [which are designed to determine whether children are at risk] work for 95% of cases but not for this group of dangerous parents.”

He said a review of the assessment model could be proposed in Lord Laming’s child protection probe, ordered by the government following the Baby P verdicts.

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