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Looked after children numbers 'on an upward curve'

Published 21/08/2015

Some children were being moved too quickly between foster placements because of financial pressures, the watchdog said
Some children were being moved too quickly between foster placements because of financial pressures, the watchdog said

The number of looked after children in Northern Ireland has hit a 20-year high, the Human Rights Commission said.

Some have been in the state system for more than a decade.

The watchdog said some children were being moved too quickly between foster placements, at times because of financial pressures in the health service, and highlighted delays in the adoption process as well as the "powerlessness" of some affected.

Interviewees said young people in residential care were being penalised for offences in a way that they would not be if they lived with their parents and added summoning police should only occur as a last resort.

Chief commissioner Les Allamby said: " Our research identifies ongoing difficulties with the current system and indicates that reforms are required in a number of areas.

"Our aim is for improvements be made without delay as it is essential that our laws and practices protect children's human rights at every step of their journey through the care system."

The report, Alternative Care and Children, was 175 pages long.

In March last year, 249 children had been looked after for more than 10 years and 547 children had been looked after for between five and 10 years, the Commission said.

Some children faced placement moves due to financial pressure within health trusts, for example, moving from private foster placements to Trust foster placements.

Of the looked after children who moved in the year 2012/13, over a fifth had between one to three placement switches.

The report said: "While these figures indicate that the majority of looked after children are in relatively stable placements, those who continue to experience placement moves are exposed to a level of intense disruption and a risk to their sense of security and stability."

Other key points of the document included:

:: Despite the Department for Health and Social Services and Public Safety's 2006 recognition that the law is out of date, adoption legislation had not been reformed.

:: Young people expressed a strong sense of powerlessness and lack of decision-making in their care. Inadequate information was available regarding the protection of the right of affected children to be heard and taken seriously during the care planning process and in determining secure accommodation.

:: Interviewees expressed concern at the lack of consistency across residential care settings in how they responded to incidents, and suggested there was a need for more staff training and learning from good practice.

The report added: "There are currently more looked after children in Northern Ireland than at any time since the Children Order (1995) came into effect and ... the numbers of child protection and children in need referrals are on an upward curve."

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