Rate of Welsh children being taken into care increases by 10%

THE number of Welsh children being taken into care has rocketed 10% in the past year as the effects of the Baby Peter scandal continue to be felt.

The figures show the extent of Wales’ parenting shame, which has seen the number of children separated from their families rise year on year since 2002-03 – the earliest year for which records are available.

It comes against the backdrop of a fall in the number of social work staff. Back in 2002-03 the number of children in care stood at 4,200 but in 2009-10 this figure rose to 5,165 – an increase of 23%.

The latest data shows each of the 22 local authorities in Wales recorded a rise in the number of youngsters they look after, with Swansea (30%) and Neath Port Talbot (35%) posting the biggest rises.

A spokesman for Swansea council yesterday said the rise was partly due to the cautious approach adopted by authorities following Baby Peter’s death in 2007 but insisted figures relating to 2010-11 – which had yet to be published – showed the speed of which the numbers had risen had steadied with only 20 more children taken into care that year.

He said: “The numbers of looked-after children has fallen in seven of the eight months since last September and there are now fewer children and young people looked after than at this time last year.”

Freda Lewis, director of the Fostering Network Wales, said she was concerned about the impact the increase in looked-after children would have.

She said she particularly concerned with the possibility the continued rise in children coming into care could add pressure on a system already feeling the strain.

“Foster homes will need to be found for the majority of these children yet we are already facing a chronic shortage of hundreds of foster carers across Wales,” she said.

“Fostering services urgently need more people to come forward to foster and the new Welsh Government has to make tackling the shortage of foster carers a priority.”

Robin Moulster, the British Association of Social Workers Cymru manager, raised concerns about the ability of social workers to do their jobs without consistent management. He said: “Community Care Magazine conducted a recent survey of social workers which highlighted that 69% of those who worked in children’s services [not specifically in Wales] had two or more line managers in a year – and 20% had four or more line managers in a year.

“The lack of consistency of support and the lack of any requirement for employers to adhere to the codes of practice for employers of social care workers means that social workers are left to the whim of each employer as to how much support they actually receive in managing complex situations for vulnerable people.”

Over the past five years, local authorities have reported a higher number of child protection referrals as a direct result of the publicity surrounding the abuse suffered by Baby Peter Connolly in the Haringey area of North London.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “These figures show that there has been a small drop in the overall number in the social work workforce, from 20,173 in March 2009 to 20,125 in March 2010. However, while the numbers of frontline social workers employed in Wales has in fact increased, the number of managers and other groups has reduced – which has brought the overall number down.

“While the responsibility for recruiting social workers is the responsibility of the employers – mainly local authorities – the Welsh Government has a clear commitment to the social work profession. There is renewed interest in social work with more people wanting to undertake social worker training.”