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Figures show decrease in numbers of children in need and of those on child protection plans

Statistics also show a dip in referrals but increase in assessments carried out

Published on 5th November 2019

There has been a slight decrease in the number of children in need, according to government figures.

There were 399,500 children in need at 31st March 2019, a decrease of 1% from 2018, the Department for Education characteristics of children in need: 2018 to 2019 statistics revealed.

"This decrease may in part be explained by a rise of 3%, to 343,000, in the number of children that ended an episode of need compared to last year," said the report. "The number of children that started an episode of need in 2018-19 was relatively unchanged compared to last year at 381,900."

Boys are slightly more likely to be in need than girls and of the children in need at 31st March 2019, 53% were male, 45% female and 2% unborn or of unknown gender – the same as last year.

While the ethnic breakdown of children in need is similar to last year, over the last five years there has been a gradual decline in the proportion of children in need that were White, from 75% in 2015 to 72% this year. In contrast, there have been slight increases in the percentage whose ethnicity was Mixed or Black and no change in the percentage of those whose ethnicity was Asian.

In 2018-19, there were 650,900 referrals, a dip of 1% from the previous year which reversed the upward trend seen between 2016 and 2018. The number of re-referrals continued to increase however and is at the highest level since 2015. There were 147,200 re-referrals in 2018-19, an increase of 2% from 2017-18, and represented 23% of all referrals in 2018-19.

The report reveals that the number of assessments completed in the year has increased in each year since 2014-15, rising by 17% from 550,800 in 2014-15 to 644,700 this year. In the same period the average duration of assessments increased from 28 to 32 working days.

In 2019, 54% of children in need at 31st March had abuse or neglect recorded as their primary need identified at assessment. This compares to 53% last year and 49% in 2015. While 15% of children in need had family dysfunction, 8% had a child's disability, which made up the three largest categories.

Domestic violence - which includes that directed at children, the parent/carer or other adults in the household) remains the most common factor identified at end of assessment, followed by mental health relating to either the child, parent or carer or other adult in the household. Together these two factors account for over a third of all factors identified.

Child sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, physical abuse and going/being missing were the only factors to decrease compared to last year, though the changes were relatively small.

There was an increase of 30% in the number of factors identified as “unaccompanied asylum seeker” compared to last year and similarly large percentage increases for gangs (up 27%), trafficking and abuse linked to faith or belief (both up 20%). These percentage increases are relatively large, but it should be noted that they are from a low base compared to some other factors, and they remain uncommon overall, the report adds.

The figures also show that there are fewer children on child protection plans in 2019 compared to 2018. There were 52,300 children subject to a child protection plan at 31st March 2019 , a decrease of 3% from 2018. The number of child protection plans ending during the year continued to increase, up 3% to 67,900. However, the number of child protection plans starting during the year fell by 3% to 66,700.

There was no change in the initial categories of abuse recorded for children in need that became the subject of a child protection plan compared to last year. Neglect (48%) remained the most common initial category of abuse in 2018-19, followed by emotional abuse (35%).

Since 2012-13 however, there has been an increase in the percentage of children that had neglect and emotional abuse recorded as the initial category of abuse. In contrast, there has been a drop in the percentage recorded as sexual, physical or multiple abuse over the same period, the report concludes.

Characteristics of children in need: 2018 to 2019 England

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