Belfast Telegraph

Children at risk as social services budget slashed

By Lisa Smyth

Social services in Northern Ireland is being stretched to the limit amid massive budget cuts putting thousands of children at risk, it has been claimed.

It comes as researchers from Queen’s University in Belfast revealed the number of children in Northern Ireland on the child protection register has risen sharply since 2006.

According to the findings of the Queen’s study, there were 1,639 children on Northern Ireland’s child protection register in March 2006 and this rose to 2,401 in March last year.

However, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has warned the funding of social services is not adequate to deal with the rising number of children considered at risk.

Nushra Mansuri, BASW professional officer, said: “The child protection system is under resourced and crisis-led. Too many families are being left without support at an early stage, which is just escalating the risk to children.”

The QUB research coincides with a major international child protection conference organised by the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (BASPCAN) at Queen’s this week.

Dr John Devaney from Queen’s School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work said: “Over the past number of years, the health part of the health and social services budget has been protected but this is not the case for the social services part.

“There are concerns that social worker posts that become vacant are not being filled.

“There has been an impact on other professionals, such as health visitors, who are often the first to realise when a family is experiencing a problem and could benefit from intervention before it gets to a critical stage and their posts are not being filled.

“There are many people who could do with help and they are not getting it, such as families where a parent is an alcoholic where the child may benefit from additional support at school to help them with their homework.

“For example, there are about 40,000 children living with a parent addicted to alcohol and while they are not in danger of coming to immediate harm, they could benefit from having additional support.”

Factfile

The number of children on the child protection register at March 31 in 2006 and 2011:

England: 26,400 — 42,330

Wales: 2,165 — 2,880

Scotland: 2,157 — 2,571

Northern Ireland: 1,639 — 2,401

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