Belfast Telegraph

Number of Northern Ireland children living in care rises by 43% in decade

 

By Linda Stewart

The number of children in care in Northern Ireland has risen for the 10th year in a row, with an overall surge of 43% in the past decade.

Department of Health figures show 2,213 young people have been looked after continuously for 12 months or longer - a rate of 51 children for every 10,000 of our population aged under 18.

This is a lower proportion than England, where the rate is 60 children per 10,000 of the child population.

In Northern Ireland, the lowest rate in recent years was in 2006, when there were 1,480 children in care, a rate of 34 children per 10,000 population.

The latest figures, correct as of September 30, 2016, emerged in an annual report from the Department of Health.

The 'Children in Care in Northern Ireland 2015/16 Statistical Bulletin' said the number of children looked after in 2016 was 2% higher than in the previous year, however, it represented a 43% increase from 2006.

The report said the rise may be explained by several factors, including an increased level of awareness of child protection issues, greater willingness to take action to protect children who are potentially at risk and more adolescents becoming looked after due to family breakdown.

The report also shows that one-fifth (19%) of children in care had experienced a placement change during the previous 12 months, the lowest number in recent years.

The figures showed that children in care generally didn't perform as well as their peers at Key Stage assessments.

Meanwhile, 54% of looked-after children achieved at least 5 A*-C GCSEs in Year 12, compared with 83% of the general Year 12 school population.

The bulletin also shows that looked-after children of school age (25%) compared with the general school population (5%) are more likely to have a statement of Special Educational Needs.

Where geographical information was available, 75% of the children had been living in a mainly urban area before they entered care and 44% of the children came from the 20% most deprived areas.

The report also shows that 54% were male and 46% female; while 52% were Catholic, 40% were Protestant and 8% were reported as 'No', 'Unknown' or 'Other'.

Some 14% were reported as disabled, breaking down to 17% of boys and 11% of girls.

Compared with the general school population (5%), fewer looked after children attending primary school missed 25 or more school days (3%).

The trend was reversed at post-primary, where 16% of looked-after children missed 25 or more days, compared with just 10% of the general school population.

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