Children On At-Risk List Rise By 60% In Newcastle

Dozens of at-risk children have been identified following high-profile abuse cases including the murder of baby Aaron O’Neil. Care agencies were criticised for not doing enough to protect three-month-old Aaron, who was battered to death by his father in February 2005.

New figures reveal that 321 vulnerable youngsters are now on Newcastle’s child protection register compared with 202 a year ago, an increase of 60%.

Domestic violence and substance misuse within families are among the main reasons and Newcastle has a bigger proportion of children identified as `at risk’ than several cities, including Liverpool and Birmingham.

City council officials say numbers on the register fluctuate, but there is now a heightened awareness of the risks following incidents over the last two years. Among those placed on the register are 12 unborn babies.

An independent review of cases involving vulnerable children, commissioned by the city council’s executive director of children’s services Catherine Fitt following Aaron’s death, concluded that on a number of occasions there was a failure to properly link domestic violence with possible child abuse. In several cases this led to delays in taking measures to protect children.

The audit followed serious case reviews into the deaths of two children including Aaron whose father, Paul O’Neil, then 33, of Kenton, was jailed in February last year for 22 years for murder while his mother, Jodie Taylor, then 21, was jailed for three and a half years for neglect.

Eight agencies were criticised in the serious case review which concluded more could have been done to protect Aaron from his unfit parents. Though it has never been said officially, the Chronicle understands Aaron was not on the child protection register.

In another case, Danielle Wails, 22, admitted killing her four-month-old son Alexander Gallon by starting a fire at their home in Cowgate, in 2005. Wails was charged with murder but walked free when she received a three-year community order after admitting the lesser charge of infanticide. An inquiry concluded that the full extent of her actions could not have been predicted but also revealed failings in the care system.

Newcastle Central MP Jim Cousins said: “I find this switchbacking of figures from one year to the next extremely disturbing and I would like a proper explanation.”

A city council spokesman said: “The numbers on the child protection register do fluctuate but more recently have been on the increase and currently stand at 321. This is due to a range of different factors but mainly domestic violence and substance misuse, mental health and neglect. It is also the case that the public and people who work with children are more aware of the risks due to events involving Newcastle children.”