Domestic violence is most prevalent factor in children’s assessments

ADCS report highlights ‘toxic trio’ of parental factors (domestic violence, mental health, substance misuse) that continue to be an increasing reason for involvement with children’s social care

Published on 9th December 2016

Domestic abuse, mental health and substance misuse continue to be a major, and increasing, reason for involvement of children’s social care in safeguarding children, directors of children’s services have warned.

The effects of “the toxic trio” of parental factors was present in 90% of cases in the Eastern region of England with other areas ranging from 65% to 80% of cases, the report by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services has found.

An increase of 25% in parental substance misuse was reported by another authority.

ADCS Safeguarding Pressures research has provided evidence of trends in safeguarding activity and the provision of services to children and their families based on information from local authorities in five phases spanning 2007/8 to 2015/16. This latest report is phase five.

It highlights how from 1 April 2013, The Department for Education started collecting presenting factors in assessments. In some cases separated to ‘by the child’; ‘by parent/carer’, or ‘by other person in the household’, which means it is not possible to aggregate these as it is likely that there is more than one presenting factor. However, DfE Characteristics of children in need: 2015 to 2016 released in November 2016 helpfully does this and analysis from both sources is used.

Half of children in need witnessed domestic violence

A DfE report published in November found that domestic violence is the main issue for children referred to children services and the ADCS report reiterates this.

The ADCS research found that the most prevalent factor in assessment remains ‘domestic violence’. Of the assessments completed in 111 responding local authorities during 2015/16:

• 52,750 (11%) included concerns about the child being the subject of domestic abuse

• 130,280 (27%) included concerns about the child’s parent/carer being the subject of domestic abuse

• 24,190 (5%) had concerns about another person living in the household being the subject of domestic abuse.

“DfE states that 49.6% of all Children in Need at 31st March 2016 had domestic abuse as a factor at the end of their assessment – in other words, half of all Children in Need have experienced or witnessed domestic abuse,” said the ADCS research. “Yet some local authorities stated that their domestic abuse services were subject to cuts due to funding pressures, whilst others have maintained these services or provided investment to address the impact that domestic abuse has on the lives of children and families.”

Neglect is most prevalent form of abuse in plans

In 20% of assessments (98,615) completed in the year from the 111 responding authorities, mental health was a presenting factor where there were concerns about the mental health of the parent or carer.

According to the DfE, mental health (of child, parent/carer or other person in the household) is a factor in 36.6% of all Children in Need assessments at 31st March 2016 and drug misuse is a factor in 19.3% of assessments.

In 2013-14, Public Health England reported that 22% of drug treatment and 31% of alcohol treatment service-users had children living with them, whilst 28% of drug treatment and 11% of alcohol treatment service-users were parents not living with their children.

President of the ADCS Dave Hill said: “The current phase of this study brings the evidence base up to date and many of the pressures identified in Phase 4 continue; neglect remains the most prevalent category of abuse in child protection plans and the ‘toxic trio’ continues to be a growing reason for involvement of children’s social care.”

Respondents and interviewees described other factors which led to children and families requiring early help or social care services, and changes over the past two years:

• There is an increase in entrenched and more complex problems which children and families are experiencing, planning and service provision is therefore more challenging and resolution takes longer

• Impact of digital media and online abuse via social media, affecting emotional and mental health of young people

• Child sexual exploitation and trafficking

• Poverty and homelessness, resulting in families requiring financial support through No Resource to Public Funds (NRPF).

Increase in unaccompanied asylum seeking children

Both DfE and ADCS Safeguarding Pressures research data show a steady and continued increase in children subjects of Section 47 enquiries to a rate of 142.5 per 10,000 0-17 population - an increase of 87% since 2008/09 and 4.9% in the past year.

The number of children becoming subjects of child protection plans continues to increase year-on-year. During 2015-16, 54,279 children became subjects of child protection plans in 123 authorities which provided valid data, the equivalent to 54 children per 10,000 0-17 population (63,021 across all authorities) and an increase of 3.4% from 2013/14.

ADCS reveals that 45% of initial child protection plans are due to neglect which “continues to be the most and increasingly prevalent category of abuse”. The proportion of plans in the category ‘Emotional Abuse’ has also increased and now accounts for 35% of the total. The proportion of plans for Physical Abuse continues to decrease, whereas there has been a very small increase in the proportion of plans for Sexual Abuse for the first time since 2010/11.

Local authorities were asked to provide data about children starting and ceasing to be looked after during the year and who were looked after at 31st March, by age and category of need. There was a total of 27,992 children starting to be looked after in 2015/16, according to the 123 local authorities provided valid data which is 28.2 children per 10,000 0-17 population or 32,964 across all local authorities.

During 2015-16, 7,431 children ceased to be looked after, equating to 27.3 children per 10,000 0-17 population. Whilst the number of children looked after continues to increase very slightly, the number of children ceasing to be looked after is also increasing, indicating that there may be overall a more effective ‘flow’ of children through the care system, the research says.

52.9% of all children starting to be looked after were primarily due to reasons of Abuse or Neglect while 26.0% started to be looked after due to either Family Dysfunction or Family in Acute Stress combined.  

“Recent large increases in the proportion of children starting to be looked after in the category Absent Parenting to 12.6% (a 160% increase during Phase 5) relate to the increase in numbers of unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC),” says the report.

One authority reported a 63% rise in CSE cases

The report also highlighted that there has been an increase of 14.6% in all care applications in the last year according to Cafcass figures which equates to 12,787 in 2016/17. The length of time is takes to complete care and supervision applications from when the application is issued to when the application completed reduced markedly between 2012/13 and 2014/15 from 48 to 30 weeks, and has remained at an average 30 weeks for the last three years.

In addition, ADCS asked for the first time about the numbers of children at risk of Child Sexual Exploitation.  100 local authorities supplied data relating to a total of 13,466 children, equating to a rate of 15.7 per 10,000 0-17 population. The highest rates of children who may be at risk tended to be reported in areas where there has been significant media interest in CSE, but also represented are several coastal towns.

One authority reported a 63% increase in CSE cases in the past year, due to awareness raising and the dedicated focus of a specific multi-agency team.

Dave Hill concluded: “Protecting children from harm is one of the most important things we do. Despite the challenging context in which we operate local authorities remain committed to providing high quality services to those in need so that the UK can continue to be a great place for children to grow up.”

ADCS Safeguarding Pressures research

Training: Dealing with substance misuse and addiction




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