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Children in UK’s poorest areas 10 times more likely to go into care


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Children in UK’s poorest areas 10 times more likely to go into care” was written by Patrick Butler Social policy editor, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 28th February 2017 00.01 UTC

Children living in the poorest neighbourhoods of the UK are almost 10 times more likely to be taken into care or placed on a child protection plan than those from affluent areas, a study has revealed.

Poverty was the biggest single factor behind wide inequalities in child safeguarding interventions that see one in 60 children taken into care in the most deprived areas, compared with one in 660 in the wealthiest areas. “Children in Blackpool, Hull or Wolverhampton were many times more likely to be LAC [‘looked after children’] than children in Wokingham, or Windsor and Maidenhead,” the authors said.

The research called on ministers to take action to minimise wide variations in demand for child protection services, which had a similar effect to health and education inequalities in terms of the long-term consequences for a child’s health and wellbeing in later life.

It said: “Placing children on child protection plans or taking children into care are very powerful state actions. If these powers are carried out inconsistently or inequitably between children with different identities or backgrounds or from different places, important issues of social justice are raised.”

The Child Welfare Inequality project analysed data on more than 35,000 children who were either looked after or on a child protection plan in March 2015. It was carried out by academics at Coventry, Sheffield, Huddersfield, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Stirling universities and Queen’s University Belfast.

Its findings come as ministers prepared to publish a social justice green paper with the stated aim of tackling the root causes of poverty and disadvantage.

The project found that children living in pockets of deprivation within affluent council areas were 50% more likely to be taken into care than children in equally deprived neighbourhoods in poorer local authority areas.

It said the most likely explanation for this was poorer authorities – facing greater overall demand for child protection services and proportionately larger funding cuts – were more tightly rationing expensive safeguarding interventions.

On average, the study found that each 10% increase in neighbourhood deprivation levels triggered a 30% increase in rates of looked after children. Overall, children of mixed heritage were most likely to be taken into care, with Asian children the least.

The fact that poverty was the biggest influence on rates of children taken into care was not surprising, the study said. “Parenting is much harder if you do not have enough money to provide for the essentials of food, housing, heating and clothing.

“Parenting is much easier if you can purchase help and support in the form of additional child care, clubs and activities, holidays and tutoring and there is no need to worry about the basics or the stigma that comes with poverty.”

Lead investigator Paul Bywaters, professor of social work at Coventry University, said: “This is not about pointing the finger at local authorities or apportioning blame to anyone for a situation that is in critical need of attention. What we’re doing is holding up a mirror to the child welfare sector and to the UK’s government, and saying ‘This is how it is – now what shall we do about it?’

“We’ve known for years that child abuse and neglect is linked to poverty, but there’s been a fundamental gap in our understanding of how a child’s family circumstances and neighbourhood deprivation or locality impacts their chances of the state intervening to improve their life chances.

“Our ultimate aim is to make reducing inequalities in child welfare a key policy objective, in the same way that tackling inequalities in health and education have been prioritised in recent years. With further austerity measures and fundamental changes to local government financing on the horizon, time is very much of the essence in tackling this most vital of social issues.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to make sure every child has the best possible start in life. We are changing the law to strengthen protections for vulnerable children, give them greater support in school to help support their educational attainment and help them as they prepare to leave the care system and enter adulthood.

“We are also tackling inequality by targeting 12 social mobility ‘coldspots’ across the country, backed by £72m funding. These ‘opportunity areas’ will see government working with schools, colleges, local authorities and businesses to overcome the barriers to social mobility and make sure young people from all backgrounds can go as far as their talents will take them.”

Dave Hill, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, urged ministers to engage with the findings. “With further reductions in local government funding expected in the forthcoming budget and fundamental changes to our financing on the horizon, time is of the essence in tackling this most vital of social issues before it’s too late.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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