Children in care rise sparks ‘crisis’ fears

Blackpool Councils cabinet secretary Coun Graham Cain
Blackpool Councils cabinet secretary Coun Graham Cain

Town hall chiefs have launched an inquiry into why Blackpool still has the highest rate of children in care in the country.

Despite getting the numbers under control in recent times, it has now spiralled back up to just under 500 – which is the highest rate per 10,000 population nationally.

There is clearly a correlation between some of the things happening with children going into care, and poverty

In December 2014, the number of looked after children was around 434.

According to a council report, the rise is not being seen across other parts of the North West although the police and hospital “are reporting similar pressures”.

The spike in numbers has occured since last December.

Now Blackpool Council has appointed an expert to investigate the reasons behind the increase. But councillors fear it is due to the impact of austerity measures.

Coun Ivan Taylor told a full meeting of the council: “There is clearly a correlation between some of the things happening with children going into care, and poverty.

“Given what is happening nationally, it must be significant here too.”

He added: “Attacking the benefits systems of families in this country may appear to be a popular political move but in terms of the effects on our families, it is disastrous.

“I think it’s one of the reasons why so many families are being driven into poverty.”

He warned benefits cuts were driving many families into a “dire situation.”

Coun Graham Cain, cabinet member for resilient communities on Blackpool Council, said cuts were creating a “real crisis”, with the number of children in care “hovering just below the 500 mark”.

He said: “Our priority is looking after these children, we have a major problem in this town at the moment.”

Coun Cain warned: “We have to make sure people in Westminster realise, stop cutting our money.

“You have cut enough now and it is getting to a real crisis point.”

He said extra money had been found to investigate if there were any underlying reasons for so many children in the resort having to be taken into council care.

A council report says: “In order to understand this picture further the Blackpool Safeguarding Children’s Board will support their newly appointed analyst to undertake a whole town review of rising demand to develop a better understanding of the issues which underlie this.”

An audit of children in the care system is also being carried out and more social workers are being recruited.

Last year, The Gazette revealed the Government had lifted an improvement notice on Blackpool Council’s Chidren’s Services after a three-year ‘radical’ overhaul.

Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said at the time: “I was the first to hold my hands up in 2012 and admit that our child protection services just were not good enough. We have examined and where necessary improved every step of every process.”

He spoke after a Government inspector noted marked improvements. The report stated: “My officials have reported a strong sense of commitment, passion and pride in Blackpool’s staff.”

He also acknowledged the council’s “bold and ambitious” plans for the future and said he was pleased children’s services would “continue to be prioritised”

The figure for the number of children now in care is nearer 500.