Northern Ireland’s child care applications double

The number of applications made to take vulnerable children in NI into care have almost doubled in the past year, according to a government agency.

NI’s five health and social care trusts made 160 applications for care orders involving 309 children between January and August this year.

These figures are in comparison to the 87 requests made involving 171 children during the same period last year.

They were revealed by the NI Guardian Ad Litem Agency (NIGALA).

NIGALA is a government agency which represents the interests of vulnerable children in court in both adoption and public law proceedings.

Agency director Ronnie Williamson said that the increase in the number of applications for care orders was “significant” and had increased the workload on the agency’s 39 children’s guardians.

“When a trust considers that children are at risk of significant harm they may choose to make an application for a care order to the court, as soon as this is made a guardian is appointed,” he said.

“We have had to work extremely hard to cover the increase, we didn’t have additional resources, but we have still managed to maintain a quality service for children and the courts.”

NSPCA policy manager Colin Reid said such a rise in court applications was not surprising following high profile cases of child abuse, such as that of the death of Baby Peter in Haringey, north London, in August 2007.

His mother Tracy Connelly, her boyfriend Steven Barker and their lodger Jason Owen in Haringey were later found guilty of causing his death.

“It is important that we get this into a context,” Mr Reid said.

“It is not unsurprising given what has happened in England, with baby Peter and all the very high profile stuff about his tragic death, that we may see those increase in figures, but there is much more complex things going on here.

“In Northern Ireland, at the moment, we have about 2,500 children in care, we have seen a slow increase over the years, both in terms of children being looked after and children on the child protection register.

“But, I think that there are many factors here that might underscore that.”

An increase in applications for care orders was experienced in England and Wales in the months following the death of Baby Peter in Haringey, north London, in August 2007.

At that time, the Children and Family Court Advisory Service (Cafcas), which is the equivalent of NIGALA in England and Wales, said cases such as Baby P could lead to social workers losing confidence in their professional judgement.

“It would be outrageous not to be outraged in a case like this, but outrage can lead to…defensive practice because it sows professional doubt, and unnecessary and risk-averse interventions can harm children and families as well,” Anthony Douglas chief executive of Cafcas said at that time.