UK & World News

  • 16 December 2013, 12:11

Child Abuse: 42% Rise In Investigations

A Sky News investigation has revealed up to one in 20 children in some parts of the country have been the subject of investigations into whether they are victims of abuse or neglect.

In 2012/13 English councils launched 127,060 high-level investigations - known as section 47s - into children thought to be at risk, analysis of official figures shows.

That is the equivalent of one in 100 of the country's entire population of under-18s and represents a 42.3% increase in cases since 2009/10.

In some areas the figure is much higher with the equivalent of 4.5% of children in Blackpool, 2.6% in Doncaster and 2.1% in Peterborough being investigated.

Experts said the significant increase in suspected abuse cases could be explained by the heightened awareness of the issue following the tragic case of Baby Peter Connelly in 2008.

However, they also said the impact of the recession on households had led to a marked rise in ill treatment of children.

The figures follow a series of high-profile cases of child abuse including that of four-year-old Daniel Pelka who was starved, tortured and brutally beaten to death by his mother and stepfather.

Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, told Sky News that economic pressures were linked to abuse and neglect.

He said: "I think we're aware of the dangers more than we were before and I think we're more determined to act on them, but I do think that there are some families who are getting into difficulty now who wouldn't have got into difficulty before because of increasing deprivation and indeed destitution."

Professor Jones warned that social services were increasingly struggling to cope.

"We have a child protection system and a care system where the work has been increasing year on year on year for the last five years and I really am worried about it.

"I'm worried about it because it's at the point of breakdown now, because that's at the time of public sector cuts."

In Blackpool the number of cases being investigated is more four times the national average.

In 2011 it emerged that police investigating the disappearance of 14-year-old Charlene Downes in the town had uncovered a gang of men which had groomed 60 underage girls from the area for sex.

Her mother Karen Downes told Sky News: "I was shocked when I first heard about it. I was absolutely disgusted. I didn't have any knowledge at all of any girls being abused.

"We didn't even know about the darker side of Blackpool until all this with Charlene came about."

Richard Scorer, a solicitor who specialises in child abuse cases at the Pannone law firm in Manchester, warned that many cases end up being ignored by social services.

"Cases involving chronic neglect and physical and emotional abuse tend to fall by the wayside or tend to be ignored," he said.

"And I think the other thing that comes out is the difficulties that social services have in monitoring and keeping track of children who are part of a shifting population that moves in and out of the town."

He also warned that cuts could make the situation worse.

"I think this is one of these examples of a situation where we have to decide as a society if we want to take child abuse seriously and we want to deal with it properly then we have to make sure social workers and others have the resources to deal with it properly," he said.

Sky News met several teenage girls in Blackpool who are sleeping rough and refusing to return home.

"Emma", 17, said she had been on the streets since she was 15 and "has her reasons" why she can't go home.

She sleeps in what are known as 20p hotels - toilet cubicles you pay to use.

"It's cold, it's cold as hell. You can like put your bags against the door to stop the draught coming in, but the floor gets so cold," she said.

"And it's scary as well, like every time you hear people go past shouting and that in case they come in or whatever."

"Julie", 18 said she started sleeping rough after an argument with her alcoholic mother when she was 17.

She claimed she was smoking aged seven, drinking by 11 and smoking crack by the time she was 13.

She also alleged that she was raped by a man who pretended to be her friend and took her in for the night.

"I used to turn up to my lessons under the influence. I used to snort cocaine off my religious studies book right in front of the teacher. I just didn't care," she said.

"(Teachers) always had meetings with my social workers. They just tried to take me away, and then every time they took me away, my mum went to rehab, and then she got clean for a few weeks.

"Then I went back to her, then it all went back downhill again and it just kept repeating itself."

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