A CRYING SHAME

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Earlier this month the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) released a report into vulnerable babies living in high-risk households in England.

It is truly shocking.

Here I've highlighted some of the facts and figures revealed in the report 'A Crying Shame' – they speak for themselves and don't require any further comment from me.

According to latest comprehensive local authority data, as at 31 March 2017, there were 89,400 children from birth to four years old identified as being 'in need' – largely due to risk factors in the family home – and of these 19,640 were babies under a year old.

These children are considered unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development, or their health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, without intervention from services such as social workers, health visitors, drug and alcohol workers or mental health professionals.

The largest category of risk factors is from abuse and neglect (12,286 babies, and 54,699 of 0-4), followed by ‘family dysfunction’ (3,172 under 1s and 15,055 of 0-4), ‘family in acute stress’ (1,536 under 1s and 7,304 of 0-4), and parental disability or illness (853 under 1s and 3,058 of 0-4).

Despite the risk factors, 19,640 babies in the ‘children in need’ data will likely remain living at home with their parents.

Among the ‘children in need’, nearly 5,000 babies under a year old ( 18,520 0-4) were on child protection plans, meaning children’s services considered them to be at heightened risk – in the legal definition, 'is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm'.

When the risk is thought to be too great, the local authority will take the baby into care: 3,820 babies under 1 were being looked after by local authorities on 31 March 2017 (12,990 0-4), most having been removed from their parents’ care.

A further 640 babies under 1 were placed under special arrangements with someone other than parents, usually a relative, and a further 300 were adopted over the year to 31 March 2017.

This gives a total of around 15,800 babies under 1 considered by local authorities to be vulnerable or highly vulnerable but still living at home on 31 March 2017.

NHS Digital’s 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) enables the OCC to assess the numbers of children living in households where the so-called 'toxic trio' – parental mental ill-health, domestic violence and alcohol or drug dependency – are present. Children in such households are known to be at 'very heightened risk' of severe harm.

Of the 293 Serious Case Reviews published between 2011 and 2014, domestic abuse was present in 54%, parental mental ill-health in 53% and parental alcohol or drug misuse in 47%.

All three factors were present in 22% of cases, two of the three in 30% and one of the three in 27%. Only in 21% of cases were none of the three present.

In two thirds of cases, the children involved were not receiving any children’s social care support.

The APMS data suggests there are over 50,000 children aged 0-5 years old – including around 8,300 babies under 1 – living in households where the 'toxic trio' are present. Yet the local authority ‘children in need’ data shows that around 18,500 high risk 0-4 year olds are on child protection plans, including 5,000 babies under 1.

This suggests there are likely to be over 30,000 young children (0-5) living in extremely high risk households but not on child protection plans, including 3,300 babies under 1.

Analysis of the APMS dataset also suggests that a further 160,000 children aged 0-5 – including 25,000 babies under 1 – live in a household where two ‘toxic’ risk factors are present. Yet only 58,000 0-4 year olds have been identified by local authorities as being even in the lower level risk category, ‘in need’, if those who are looked after or on a child protection plan are excluded. The corresponding figure for babies under 1 is 10,840.

This suggests there are around 100,000 young children (0-5), including 14,000 babies under 1, living in high risk households – which the OCC defines as having two out of three ‘toxic trio’ issues – who are not even recognised as ‘children in need’.

OCC prevalence figures are likely to be significant underestimates, as the APMS data only surveys one adult in a household and only cases where the adult problems are severe were counted.