Thousands of babies at risk of 'severe harm'

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Nearly 16,000 babies under the age of one are growing up in ‘toxic’ households at risk of severe harm, warns a new report from the children’s commissioner.

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According to the report, 15,800 babies considered 'vulnerable' are still living at home

'A Crying Shame' suggests that there are 15,800 babies under the age of one who are considered by local authorities to be ‘vulnerable’ or ‘highly vulnerable’ and at risk of harm, but still living at home.

The report by the Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC) for England, Anne Longfield, is based on the latest local authority data.

It reveals that as at 31 March 2017 there were 19,640 babies under one identified by local authorities as being ‘in need’, largely due to risk factors in the family home.

Of these, 3,829 were being looked after by local authorities. A further 640 babies had been placed under special arrangements with someone other than their parents and an additional 300 had been adopted.

This leaves 15,800 babies considered to be ‘vulnerable’ or ‘highly vulnerable’ but still living at home – the equivalent of 100 babies per local authority. The report says this figure is unlikely to have changed since.

Other key findings from the report show that as of March 2017:

  • 50,000 children from birth to age five, including 8,300 under the age of one, were living in households where all three of the ‘toxic trio’ (domestic violence, alcohol or drug dependence, and severe mental health) were present.
  • Of those in ‘toxic trio’ households, around 18,500 children aged under the age of five were expected to be on child protection plans, including 5,000 babies under one year – leaving 30,000 children still at home, but without protection plans.
  • A further 160,000 children from birth to five, including 25,000 under the age of one, lived in a household where two of the three most ‘toxic’ risk factors were present, known as ‘high-risk’ households. However, just 58,000 children under the age of five had been identified by local authorities as being even in the lower level risk category ‘in need’.

In the report, the OCC calls upon the Government to address under resourced local authority children’s services departments at the Budget next week and in next year’s Spending Review.

It also makes a series of recommendations such as increasing the number of mandatory health visitor visits for families where there are known risk factors, improving referral pathways from health visitors to health professionals and children’s services, along with close monitoring of adequacy of provision of health visitors now funding has been transferred to local authorities.

Comments

Alice Miles, the children’s commissioner’s director of strategy and author of the report, said, ‘This analysis suggests there are many thousands of babies living in households carrying very high risks, many of whom may not even be known to social services. We know infants are especially vulnerable to being harmed by parental abuse or neglect.

‘With local authorities under such pressure financially, and troubled families funding coming to an end in 2020, it's vital that ministers make the protection of vulnerable children a priority in policy and funding. The country is rightly shocked and outraged when serious case reviews reveal the circumstances in which young children live and sometimes die; however, sadly these are the tip of the iceberg.’

The children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield added, ‘This important research shows hundreds of the most vulnerable young children are at risk of harm. As children’s services budgets come under increased pressure, we cannot just cross our fingers and hope for the best. Babies are too vulnerable and deserve better. The Government has an opportunity in the Budget and next year’s spending review to make sure the funds are in place to ensure that they are properly protected.’

A Government spokesperson said, ‘Every child deserves the best start in life, so it is vital vulnerable children who may face barriers to success, such as those affected by mental health, alcoholism and domestic abuse receive the care and support they need, when they need it. 

‘We are working to tackle these issues through our landmark Domestic Abuse Bill to better protect and support victims, as well as reviewing the outcomes for children in need.

‘We are also investing up to £270 million in children’s social care programmes to improve the lives of vulnerable children, we have pledged £8 million to support children who are exposed to domestic abuse and £500,000 to expand helplines for children of alcoholics.’

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