Continuing increase in child protection plans in Northumberland

Northumberland County Council
Northumberland County Council

The number of referrals accepted by the children’s social-care team in Northumberland in the past 12 months represented a 20 per cent rise on the previous year.

And when averaged against the child population, the rates in the county on this and a number of other measures related to youngsters needing support compare unfavourably to both the regional and national averages, an update to councillors has revealed.

Northumberland County Council’s latest safeguarding trends report, which will be presented to the family and children’s services committee next Thursday (January 10), states that the number of initial contacts to social services had looked to be decreasing, but has increased over the past two quarters.

Of the 3,431 contacts received in the quarter ending October 2018, 901 of these were accepted as a referral – defined officially as ‘a request for services to be provided by children’s social care either in respect of a child not previously known to the local authority or where the case was previously open but is now closed’.

Over the past 12 months, there have been a total of 3,890 referrals accepted by Northumberland’s social-care teams, a rate of 659 per 10,000 children – significantly higher than the latest (2017-18) national rate of 553 and regional rate of 602.

Another measure is the number of section 47 (S47) inquiries, which take place where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm.

In the year ending October 2018, there were 1,308 S47 inquiries completed in Northumberland, equating to 222 per 10,000, which is once again noticeably higher than the latest national average of 167.

This rate also represents an increase compared to last year where the S47 rate in the county was 183 per 10,000.

S47s can lead to an initial child protection conference (ICPC) – in Northumberland in the most recent quarter, just over half did.

Continuing the trend, 635 county children were the subject of an ICPC over the previous year, equating to 108 per 10,000 – two-thirds above the 2017-18 national average of 67.

Of these, 550 children, or 93 per 10,000, were then made subject to a Child Protection Plan (CPP) – which children are made subject to if they have suffered significant harm, such as neglect, physical or sexual abuse, and are at continuing risk of this harm – again above the national rate of 58 and the regional rate of 88.

At the end of October 2018, 427 children were subject to a CPP – 72 per 10,000 of the under-18 population, against a national rate of 45 and regional average of 66.

When the previous safeguarding trends report was reported to councillors in June last year, it was explained that answers are being sought over the concerning rise in CPPs.

The latest report explains that some in-depth analysis has been carried out by comparing two distinct periods with lower and higher figures, which has ruled out a number of potential causes for the increase – more referrals, CPPs remaining open for longer, larger sibling groups and any particular age group of children being made subject to CPPs have all been ruled out.

But the analysis did show that the rise has coincided with the creation of the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH), which has resulted in a change in the way that cases are triaged.

‘By having one central point for all referrals across the county with multi-agency input into the triage process, this has meant that thresholds are consistently applied and that safeguarding concerns can be identified in a more timely fashion’, the report explains.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service