The latest figures available from Cafcass show that a new surge has begun in children being taken into care.
There now seems little doubt that huge numbers of children are being deemed to be ‘under threat’ from their domestic situations as a direct result of high-profile media cases. Behind this, it appears there is a desperate attempt to hit and exceed targets in a bid to show that local council carers are on the ball.
Although the Guardian reported in January that last quarter 2009 figures were 20% up year on year immediately following the media glare of the Baby P case in Haringey, the latest data show that care orders are up 73%. In December alone, the increase was 150%.
This has levelled off in the last two months, but the organisations and social service departments involved are being put under enormous (and cynical) political pressure.
“The word has gone out to get the numbers up” one insider in Plymouth social services told The Slog this morning, “And mistakes are being made”.
Last year, The Slog’s mother-site nby revealed the case of Bernadette McManus,a resident of Plymouth who had four children removed in a raid involving three police cars and five officers. The reasons given by the police officers at the scene were described by close neighbours at the time as ‘total rubbish’. But later, Plymouth Tory MP Gary Streeter sent McManus (a constituent) a letter written in such a manner as to seem like a threat of reprisals if she spoke to the media.
Private Care charity Children & Young People Now has looked at the problems currently faced by the under-resourced and hugely overworked quango Cafcass. They concluded:
‘The Baby Peter effect is continuing to put an immense strain on children’s professionals…North Devon service manager Mark Saunders says: “Before this recent increase we were getting one or two new cases every four weeks. Now it is around three to four a week”..’
Eminent expert in the field Alison Paddle expressed concerns that the system is poor, as it only looks at papers submitted by the council to the court and rarely involves meeting with the child and the family. “They call these cases ‘paper children’, as to them they only exist in a report” she said. A victim of this mentality in Nottingham, who ‘can’t be named for etc etc’ (yawn) writes to The Slog:
‘We have never been charged with any offence, nor have we seen the inside of a county courtroom….I can offer only the speculation that social services’ endgame is alienation between the children and ourselves to make their job of permanently separating us that much easier. Then they adopt them out, meet their targets – and get more money in the next budget.’
A senior professional in the private sector told us this lunchtime, “Cafcass has lacked continuity and been forced to hire agency workers. There is a lack of continuity, but it’s not their fault”.
A Stafford council insider was considerably more blunt last night:
“It’s the same old same old. The media catch on to the fact that central government has no money but keeps on insisting that things are improving. So the politicians take more budget away and double the targets. Then the managers dump the shit on us. This is the reason more and more people are leaving the service”.
Abusive and unwarranted child care orders represent a complex subject. But this huge leap in the latest figures suggests that many abuses can be laid at the door of target-obsessed Ministers sitting safely down in Westminster.