9,000 children on abuse register

ALMOST 9,000 children in Wales are at risk of, or already suffering abuse or neglect, according to new figures.

The number amounts to nearly half of all children with social services files and experts warn that budget cuts may mean less help for vulnerable youngsters.

According to the Children in Need Census 2010, carried out by the Assembly Government, 18,865 children had a case open with social services for three or more months on March 31, 2010.

Of these, 2,015 children were on the child protection register, 11%, while 5,090 were looked after by a local authority, 27%.

Nearly half of children, 8,785, had a need for services due primarily to the risk of or actual abuse or neglect, while just under a quarter, 4,460, needed help because of disability or illness.

Around a quarter of children, 3,815, had parents with substance or alcohol misuse problems, 3,280 had parents with mental health problems and 3,680 were from homes where domestic abuse was an issue.

Children coping with these situations were more likely to have mental health problems and substance misuse problems.

The figures come after it was reported yesterday that the number of children in care reporting physical or sexual abuse from carers and fellow children has risen by nearly a third, according to charity ChildLine.

NSPCC head of service for Wales, Des Mannion, said: “This is yet another indication that many vulnerable young people in Wales are not always getting the vital help and support they need.

“Given the current budget pressures that local authorities face, NSPCC Cymru/Wales is continuing to call for frontline services to be properly resourced to protect children and for continued support for vulnerable children and their families with issues such as neglect, domestic abuse and substance misuse.

“Through early intervention, prevention services and better child protection training, we can help decrease the need for statutory intervention at a later date.”

Richard Bunting, spokesman for Action for Children in Wales, said: “In fact many thousands more children are affected by abuse and neglect.

“The figures are a reminder of the need to take action and support neglected and vulnerable children. These things too often go unnoticed.

“It’s important that we support families that are struggling as soon as possible. That means investment in early intervention to give families the support they need.”

Yvonne Rodgers, director of Barnardo’s Cymru, said the figures were a timely reminder that there are many children growing up in difficult circumstances in Wales.

She said: “More than ever, we need to be fulfilling our promise to work with the most disadvantaged children, young people and families and offering the right support so that they can turn their lives around.

“With cuts in funding directed at the most vulnerable, the impact on children and young people could be damaging at a time when they most need support.”

Sean O’Neill, policy director at Children in Wales, said the figures should help policy makers to know where to direct funding.

He said: “There’s a real fear that the moment that many local services for children and families have come to be relied on, they may be at risk from the cuts.

“We’ve got to provide for these groups of children in the future.

“Everyone needs to maximise a limited pot of money. We need to focus on the families that are most vulnerable.”

An Assembly Government spokesman said it is supporting families through initiatives such as the Child Poverty Strategy, Families First, Flying Start and the Integrated Family Support Service, which provides help earlier to children and families with parental issues such as substance misuse, mental health, domestic violence and learning disabilities.

He said: “The safety and protection of a child is of paramount importance and a key priority for the Welsh Assembly Government and for local agencies.

“The wide range of public bodies and individuals that refer children to social services illustrates the commitment and better understanding of their collective responsibilities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people.

“We believe the best place for a child is with their family, however, where authorities have concerns, the key organisations will come together to decide what action needs to be taken to ensure the safety of the child.”