Looked after children and children subject to a child protection plan
The rates of children in Herefordshire who are looked after (LAC) by the local authority or subject to a child protection plan (CPP) are relatively high and have been for a number of years. In March 2018, there were 200 CPPs in place, and 300 children and young people were ‘looked after’ – the latter continuing a five year upward trend.
There is no evidence to suggest that such high rates would be expected given the characteristics of the county’s population – with relatively low incidence of many of the risk factors known to increase the chances of needing social services’ intervention; such as deprivation and poverty, homelessness, young parents, disability, injuries, and youth offending.
It is not currently possible to quantify the number of children or families likely to need help from children’s social services. The interactions of the many risk factors and circumstances that impact upon child welfare are complex (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Family Model
As is the case nationally, domestic violence and poor parental mental health are the most common reasons for children receiving support from Herefordshire social services. Along with parental substance misuse, these factors are referred to as the “toxic trio” of risks, with at least two of the three estimated to be present in 65 to 80% of all social care cases in England. Estimates suggest that 300 under 18s in the county are living with all three of these risks (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Estimated number of under 18s living with the toxic trio of risk factors for social care involvement in Herefordshire
Reflecting the national finding that deprivation – and particularly family economic circumstances – is a major factor contributing to the demand for social care services, the chances of children and families being involved with children’s services are higher in more deprived areas of the county – i.e. areas of Hereford City and the market towns. The Weobley area is an anomaly in that it is the only rural area with high rates of early help intervention, which local intelligence suggests may be related to positive partner and community engagement, in combination with relatively high levels of need. There is also an indication that need for children’s social care might be affected by the local experience of deprivation, which recent evidence suggests is quite marked (see social mobility section).
Prevention and early help
Evidence clearly points to the importance of a “whole family” and “whole system” approach to safeguarding children, and for it to be seen as everybody’s business with close collaboration between professionals and organisations. This is true once needs arise, but also in tackling the underlying root causes of child maltreatment in order to prevent needs emerging in the first instance.
A combination of this primary prevention approach, alongside the current efforts to ensure that service provision is targeted at the right level of need, with appropriate support provided at the earliest opportunity to prevent needs escalating, could contribute to reducing the number of children and young people within the local children’s social care system.