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A rise in the number of children taken into care by Essex County Council is largely down to an increase of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
The number of children taken into care by the council (ECC) due to “absent parenting” has increased from 159 in 2016/2017 to 195 in 2018/2019 – a 23 per cent increase.
The total number of children in care has increased from 1,497 to 1,505.
The number of cases due to abuse or neglect has dropped from 1,013 to 976 – though the number of children taken into care due to families being in “acute stress” has increased from 86 to 103.
The council has said that it expects the upward trajectory of demand for children’s services to continue to affect Essex and all other local authorities, nationally.
Over the last 10 years, there have been 124 per cent more child protection enquiries; 23,000 more child protection plans; and last year, there were 72,670 looked after children, a new high.
While ECC has become a very efficient provider of very good children’s services – it was rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted earlier in 2019 – it is experiencing and will continue to experience financial pressures, due to population growth, increased demand, increased complexity, and new risks in the community.
This has resulted in a continued pressure on children in care volumes which for 2019/20 to 2021/22 is significant, forecast to be in the region of £14m.
The council has said that the category of absent parenting would usually be applied to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, while adding that the number of these children does fluctuate and is affected by the number of spontaneous arrivals into Essex and the number that Essex is accepting as part of regional arrangements under the National Transfer Scheme.
To put this in context, this figure has maintained at around 9 to 11 per cent of ECC’s child in care population for the last five years.
Essex is obliged to provide accommodation for those children who have arrived in the UK alone or become separated from their parents/carers.
This accommodation should be appropriate to their wishes and needs.
As well as somewhere to live, extra help should include help with money, advice, planning for the future and other support.