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Children in care rise by 6 per cent in year to March 2010

Children's Minister Tim Loughton responds to published figures

There were 64,400 looked after children as at 31 March 2010, an increase of 6 per cent from 2009 and an increase of 7 per cent since 2006.

Figures released by the Department for Education show that 27,800 children started to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2010. This is an increase of 8 per cent over the preceding 12 months and 13 per cent from the year ending 31 March 2006. Of these children 9,500 are classed as being taken into care.

25,100 children ceased to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2010. This is similar to last year's figure of 25,000.

Overall, the main reason why social care services first engaged with children who started to be looked after during the year was because of abuse or neglect (52 per cent). This percentage has increased since 2009.

73 per cent of children who were looked after at 31 March 2010 were in a foster placement. This is an increase from 69 per cent in 2006. There were 2,300 children placed for adoption at 31 March 2010.

There were 350 mothers aged 12 and over who were looked after at 31 March 2010. This is the same as the previous year and an increase of 18 per cent from the 2006 figure.

The figures can be accessed in full by clicking here.

Responding to these figures, Children's Minister Tim Loughton said:

'The increase in the number of children referred to and assessed by social services, and the significant rise in the number of children in care, confirms what we already know – that children's social services are working under increasing pressure. The care system is still experiencing the fall out from the Baby Peter case and pressures will remain challenging. But protecting vulnerable children is a top priority of this new Government, which is why we urgently launched Professor Munro's independent review of child protection and asked her to look at how we can free social workers from unnecessary bureaucracy and endless targets.

'I recognise there are concerns about funding, but that's why it's more important than ever that we make the best use of our most valuable resource – social workers – and trust them to get on with their vital job at the sharp end. They need more support and greater professional freedom so that they are able to spend more time with children and make well-informed judgements. Professor Munro will also consider how we can improve the way that referrals and assessments are handled, and get a better understanding of what is driving the increase in referrals.

'I have seen at first hand the challenging and demanding work that social workers do every day. We need to boost morale in the profession, which is why, in addition to the Munro review, the Social Work Reform Board is taking forward a long-term strategy to improve the support and supervision for new, existing and returning social workers, including faster on-the-job training. Whilst the situation won't change overnight I am confident that the right steps are being taken to address the recruitment and retention issues.

'The statistics show that there hasn't been a significant increase in the number of children that need a child protection plan, despite the increase in referrals and assessments. Everyone knows that it is both much better for children, and more cost-effective for local authorities, if problems with vulnerable families are identified earlier so that children who do not require formal child protection get the help they need at an early stage. Some local authorities manage this very well and we want other areas of the country to learn from them. The Government has commissioned Graham Allen to do an independent review of early intervention and he is looking at how lessons from successful, cost-effective early intervention projects can be shared across the country. The Munro review will also look at the importance of other services intervening earlier to prevent problems escalating.

'It is vital that the most vulnerable children in our society are protected and for many children, care will be the best option. But the care system must work better for them. We want to see local authorities working more effectively to place children – whether that's in foster care, residential care or adoption. These children deserve stability and security but there are still too many delays, particularly in placing children for adoption. Over the coming months, a new adoption advisory group will be considering some of these issues, and in March we will publish slimmed-down guidance to help LAs improve their care planning.'