Care applications have continued to rise sharply according to figures for the period October to December 2009 released by Cafcass today.
Compared to quarter three last year, care demand is up by over 20%, suggesting that the rate of increase is stabilizing at the new higher level following the publicity surrounding the death of baby Peter in November 2008. However, November 2009 saw 753 care applications making it the third highest monthly figure since Cafcass records began in 2005.
Care demand in the nine months April to December 2009 is 46% higher than the same period in 2008, 37% higher than the same period in 2007, 26% higher than the same period in 2006 and 31% higher than the same period in 2005.
Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas said: "It is now universally acknowledged that the record increases in care demand have placed massive pressure on all agencies working in the child protection system. Initially we struggled to manage this sudden rise in our total caseload but, as a result of the Presidents Interim Guidance and our revised Operating Priorities, we have managed to reduce our unallocated care case numbers from 986 cases at the end of August to 497 cases as at 11 January 2010.
"We have achieved this through sheer hard work and, in a number of areas, new duty advice schemes."
The children's charity Barnardo's have welcomed the increase in care application. Its chief executive Martin Narey said: "Today's Cafcass figures show that the sharp rise in care applications after baby Peter's death has not been reversed. This should be welcomed as an appropriate response to child neglect and abuse. Social workers need to be supported to intervene earlier when a child is at risk. Barnardo's is concerned that pressure to keep families together, almost at any cost, must be resisted. The interests of the child should always come first.
"The increase in care applications is already putting a heavy strain on local authorities and it is critical that the Government funds this additional work."
Cafcass also undertook research to find out what sort of cases were being submitted to court as part of the rise in applications. The research found that in 98% of cases Cafcass staff believed that the cases allocated to them were either appropriately timed, or should have been brought to court by the local authority earlier than they were.
A substantial proportion of the increase in cases could be attributed to Local Authorities re-evaluating their involvement with families where they were already providing a service. Of those cases brought before the courts, the majority of cases featured chronic neglect as the primary factor, with 68% of the children in these cases who were subject to an existing Child Protection Plan being registered under the category of neglect.
The study concluded that although the increase in care applications could be attributed to the 'baby Peter effect', local authorities had taken the appropriate action in making these applications.