Number of children in care branded ‘horrendous’

A veteran councillor has voiced fears over the number of youngsters being taken into care in the north-east after new figures revealed almost 250 are being looked after by Aberdeenshire Council at Banff, Fraserburgh and Peterhead.

Sam Coull has hit out at “horrendous” statistics showing 87 children at Peterhead alone are being cared for by the local authority because they have been abandoned, have no surviving guardians or because their parents cannot take proper care of them.

The council is caring for a further 86 children at Banff and another 65 at Fraserburgh, placing the three towns at the top of the league table for the number of “looked-after” children .

Across Aberdeenshire, there are 442 cared-for children, including 178 on compulsory supervision orders. There are 110 being looked after under Section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 2005, which takes into account factors such as parents who need relief because of their or their child’s disability.

The majority of the youngsters – 366 – are being looked after in the community, including 111 who still live at home with their parents. Foster carers provided by the council care for 130.

Five of the total are babies under the age of one and 57 are aged between one and four. The largest number of children being cared for, 159, are between 12 and 15.

A further breakdown of the figures shows 13 of the 69 looked-after children who were excluded from school in the last year were at Peterhead.

Mr Coull says the figures are a huge concern and could explain why attainment at Banff, Fraserburgh and Peterhead academies has been so worrying in recent years.

The Press and Journal revealed in January that head teachers at the three schools, as well as at Mintlaw Academy, were being given “coaching”.

This programme was put in place because more than half of the schools’ second-year pupils were failing to meet national reading and writing standards.

The council decided to take the unprecedented step of introducing “transformational plans” to tackle the issue in all four schools.

Mr Coull, a former Liberal Democrat who represents Peterhead South and Cruden, said: “Not everyone can reach the dizzy heights in life, but I fear some children in Aberdeenshire are facing a huge struggle to even make it to the foothills.

“Factor in local education attainment levels alongside the number of looked-after children and one begins to wonder if there is a growing problem here which needs more attention.”

Aberdeenshire Council’s acting chief social work officer Chris Booth said that as Peterhead and the surrounding area had the largest populations, it was to be expected that the area had a higher number of looked-after children.