41 per cent surge in children taken into care in Sheffield ‘reflects national tougher stance’ on neglect

Sheffield MP Clive Betts.
Sheffield MP Clive Betts.
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Sheffield ‘does not have a problem’ of children being taken into care – and the amount of intervention remains among the lowest of eight ‘core cities’, the council today stressed.

The number of children taken into care has risen nationally from 8,180 in 2009 to 11,100 in 2013 – and all but Leeds and Newcastle of the eight ‘core cities’ saw increases.

Of 169 children discharged from local authority care in Sheffield in 2013/14, some 41 per cent were returned to their parents, a figure the council said was in line with other authorities.

Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts said he has been approached in the past for help with parental care issues: “I have been asked to help in cases, and several cases come to mind where children have eventually been taken away,” he told The Star “It’s pretty awful and pretty shocking, and it’s distressing.”

He spoke about one mother whose mental health issues made her unable to look after her children effectively.

He said: “She loved them and did care, but you have a two-year-old child wandering the street and found by the neighbours.

“It’s not that the child isn’t loved, but the mental health issues make it difficult for the mother to be capable of looking after the child.”

He added the decision to remove a child from its parents is ‘tough’ but that the safety of children is the main priority. He said: “I think all cases have to be judged on their own merits. I don’t think social services want children taken into care. Ultimately the safety of children has to be the main concern.

“It could be, after some of the tragedies that have happened regarding children in the past, the councils are being vigilant about making sure tragedies don’t happen.

He added: “Social services are criticised if they take children away unfairly, but they are also strongly criticised if tragedy does happen and they did not act. I think it’s a difficult job. There have been some high-profile cases in recent years, like that of Baby P. In the end the priority is the safety of children.”

A Sheffield Council spokesman said: “The impact that drugs, alcoholism, domestic violence and neglect have on children can be significant and for some children this can be at such a risky level that we have no option but to remove them from the care of their parents. The decision to do this is taken by the courts, particularly in the case of babies.

“Babies are the most vulnerable group of children.”

He insisted: “Sheffield does not have a problem. According to the most recent data published by the Department for Education last December, the number of children taken into care is lower in Sheffield than in the vast majority of other core cities.
“And, when the size of the under-18 population is considered, only Newcastle had a lower rate of children being taken into care.

“The number of care proceedings in Sheffield has increased, but it is important to differentiate between care proceedings carried out and the outcome of care proceedings which are varied, and include returns home to parents, placement with kin, a care order for local authority care, a placement order which allows a child to be placed for adoption, and a legal order allowing a relative to care for a child or young person.

“The rise in care proceedings per year of a maximum of 35 children relates to a more proactive approach to issues of kinship care, including the securing of children within family placements and a better understanding of a child’s need to be brought up within a secure family setting, including adoption.

“Compared to our closest comparators we have, year-on-year, had fewer children subject to care proceedings than the majority of other core cities for at least the last five years. The Sheffield Children, Young People and Families portfolio is committed to providing early help to families through prevention and early intervention services which provide multi-agency support to families to prevent, where possible, family break or neglect or abuse.

“Our low number of looked-after children supports the effectiveness of these multi-agency services, and therefore where children cannot be safely maintained within the care of their parents we are proactive in ensuring alternatives are sought through care proceedings.

“We believe it is good practice to ensure all children not placed at home with parents are placed within a legal order to secure stability.”