Rise in referrals in Suffolk

THE number of children referred to social services in Suffolk has increased dramatically as the county steps up its vigilance following the Baby P tragedy.

THE number of children referred to social services in Suffolk has increased dramatically as the county steps up its vigilance following the Baby P tragedy.

Last year, 7,000 children were seen by officers - a rise of 700 - and between April 1 and September 30 this year, the county council has already assessed 7,832 youngsters.

Police referrals account for most of the increase following domestic incidents or children going missing, while schools seek help over concerns about possible neglect and family disruption.

Suffolk also approved 65 new foster carers last year, bringing the total in the county to 397. A recruiting campaign was launched in September with the aim of attracting 50 more carers.

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The figures are to be presented to executive councillors next week as they consider their response to Lord Laming's review of child protection following the death last year of Baby P from abuse and violent treatment in Haringey and the earlier death of Victoria Climbie.

Simon White, director of children and young people, said Suffolk had placed an increased emphasis on identifying and assessing the impact of emotional harm resulting from domestic abuse, the primary cause in the increase in referrals from the police and child agencies.

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'Neglect remains the highest category and accounts for 60% of referrals, mainly linked to drug and alcohol abuse by parents,' said Mr White.

'Physical abuse fell to 30 children - 7% - which is the lowest it has ever been and sexual abuse at 18 children - 5% - remains a low figure.'

But Suffolk still continues to have a relatively high number of children in care, 738 - 70% of whom had been the victims of abuse.

On average, 22 children enter and leave care each month with a consistent long-term population of 450 and a consistent annual short to medium-care population of 290 youngsters.

Although the number of children suffering significant harm who have been the subject of care proceedings fell by 30% to 115 in 2008-9, the figure has increased by 39% since April - from 66 youngsters to 92 - in common with other areas of England.

The county council's �3.8million recruiting drive launched earlier this year has resulted in an extra 34 social workers, 20 family support practitioners, and 12 support staff - but 21 social workers quit between April and September as a result of either promotion or a move to other councils.

'The success in attracting new staff is beginning to make a difference,' said Mr White, 'but the full impact, including reductions in social workers' caseloads, will not be realised until the end of the year when new staff have completed their induction and gained experience.

'To date, the extra investment has reduced average social work caseloads from 26.8 to 24, with frontline team social workers holding an average of 10 child protection and children in care cases.'

Among the council's initiatives to gain more staff is the creation of 18 social work trainee posts, which will be filled by graduates who have qualified at University Campus Suffolk, the University of East Anglia, and the Open University.

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