Sharp rise in children at-risk of abuse

STEVE DOWNES Alarming new figures last night showed a spiralling rise in the number of Norfolk children on the child protection register in the last year.

STEVE DOWNES

Alarming new figures last night showed a spiralling rise in the number of Norfolk children on the child protection register in the last year.

Youngsters classed as at risk of "significant harm" - including physical, mental or sexual abuse - rose from 310 in 2004/2005 to 410 at the end of 2005/2006.

The 30pc hike to the highest level since 1999 has sparked fears that it could have a knock-on effect on the number of children whose prospects are so poor that they move from the child protection register to end up in care.

Last night, education chiefs said the figure had since fallen to 369 - and they were hopeful that a recent move to early intervention in the families of at-risk children would produce further inroads.

Mandy Lyons, safeguarding children manager at Norfolk County Council, said: "It is something that concerns us and it receives continued scrutiny. The rise appears to be a national and regional trend.

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"Any figure is a snapshot because it is constantly fluctuating as children come on or off the register. We are careful to ensure it's only the most vulnerable children who are put on the register."

The county council has recently switched from separate education and social services departments to have all aspects of care for children and young people in one department - children's services.

The nationwide shift of focus followed the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie in London, who was abused and murdered by her aunt, Marie-Therese Kouao, and her aunt's boyfriend, Carl Manning.

The inquiry by Lord Laming highlighted a raft of significant failings by social services and other care agencies that contributed to Victoria's death at the age of eight.

Changes were also prompted by the killing of six-year-old Lauren Wright, who was killed by her stepmother Tracey at their home in Welney, near Downham Market.

Children's services departments have been charged with the task of moving from late intervention when abuse has already occurred to early intervention when danger to a child is suspected.

Norfolk's chiefs hope the move will reduce the number of children in care in the county - which until recently was at a record high of 845, but has since dropped to 801.

Mrs Lyons said the high number of children on the register could be a result of the earlier intervention, which saw action taken before the situation was bad enough to require a care order.

"It could be argued that we are identifying children at risk more effectively and making plans to secure their safety," she said.

But she added that staff were trying to ensure "even earlier intervention", so children did not even reach the point of being put on the child protection register.

The number of new children put on the register is also at its highest point for years in Norfolk - up from 525 in 2004/2005 to 570. In 1999/2000 it was 405.

It means Norfolk has the second highest rate of new referrals of all the shire counties in England - 35 per 10,000 youngsters.

Only Cornwall had a worse rate in the year.

There has also been a remarkable 42pc rise in Cambridgeshire, from 215 children referred in 2004/2005 to 305 in 2005/2006.

But in Suffolk, the level fell by 15pc from 555 to 475.