Almost 16,000 infants considered vulnerable and at risk of harm

The Children’s Commissioner for England has claimed that there are 15,800 babies under the age of one considered by local authorities to be vulnerable or highly vulnerable and at risk of harm, but still living at home.

The A Crying Shame report analyses how many babies might be vulnerable to severe harm and finds that there were 19, 640 babies under a year old identified by local authorities as being ‘in need’ in March 2017, the last time comprehensive local authority data was made available. Those at risk are mainly considered to be as a result of risk factors in the family home.

3,820 of these babies under the age of one were being looked after by local authorities, with a further 640 babies placed under special arrangements with someone other than their parents and a further 300 adopted over the year. This leaves 15,800 babies under one considered by local authorities to be vulnerable or highly vulnerable but still living at home in March 2017, roughly 100 babies per local authority.

The research also found that 50,000 children aged up to five, including 8,300 babies under one are living in households where all three of the so-called ‘toxic trio’ are present: domestic violence, alcohol or drug dependency and severe mental ill-health. However, there are likely to be over 30,000 young children living in extremely high-risk households but not on child protection plans.

A further 160,000 children aged up to five – including 25,000 babies aged under one – live in a household where two of the three most ‘toxic’ risk factors are present.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “This important research shows hundreds of the most vulnerable young children are at risk of harm. As children’s services budgets come under increased pressure, we cannot just cross our fingers and hope for the best. Babies are too vulnerable and deserve better. The government has an opportunity in the Budget and next year’s spending review to make sure the funds are in place ensure that they are properly protected.”

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “These worrying figures underline the huge number of children and families in need of help and support, and emphasises the colossal challenge facing councils and their partners as they try to address growing levels of need with rapidly diminishing resources.

“While it is absolutely vital that councils are able to support families and help children who are at risk of significant harm, they also need to be able to intervene before problems escalate to that point. But this is being put at risk by the significant financial pressure that children’s services across the country are now under, with many councils being pushed to the brink by unprecedented demand.

“This has seen a record number of children entering care at a rate of 90 a day; councils starting 182 child protection plans every day, and a child referred to children’s services every 49 seconds. Despite councils’ best efforts to protect spending on children’s services, they have too often been forced to reduce or stop the very services which are designed to help children and families before problems begin or escalate to the point where a child might need to come into care. We are absolutely clear that unless new funding is found in the Autumn Budget, then these vital services, which keep children safe from harm and the worst abuses of society, will reach a tipping point.”

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