17th October 2018

Children’s Commissioner publishes report into vulnerable babies

A report published today by the Children’s Commissioner for England, suggests there are 15,800 babies under the age of 1 considered by local authorities to be vulnerable or highly vulnerable and at risk of harm, but still living at home. The report comes as many local authorities are struggling with unprecedented financial pressures that are putting increasing strain on children’s social services.

The report, ‘A Crying Shame’ looks at how many babies might be vulnerable to severe harm. It shows how in March 2017, the last comprehensive local authority data available, there were 19, 640 babies under a year old identified by local authorities as being ‘in need’, largely due to risk factors in the family home. 3,820 of these babies under 1 were being looked after by local authorities, with a further 640 babies under 1 placed under special arrangements with someone other than their parents and a further 300 adopted over the year. This leaves 15,800 babies under 1 considered by local authorities to be vulnerable or highly vulnerable but still living at home in March 2017, a figure that is unlikely to be changed today. This amounts to around 100 babies per local authority. Babies appear disproportionately in Serious Case Reviews.

The Children’s Commissioner’s research also shows:

  • 50,000 children aged 0-5, including 8,300 babies under 1 are living in households where all three of the so-called ‘toxic trio’ are present: domestic violence, alcohol or drug dependency and severe mental ill-health. Children in such households are known to be at very high risk of severe harm. However, local authority ‘children in need’ data shows that we can expect just 18,500 0-4 year olds to be on child protection plans, including 5,000 babies under 1. This suggests there are likely to be over 30,000 young children (0-5) living in extremely high-risk households but not on child protection plans, including 3,300 babies under 1
  • A further 160,000 children aged 0-5 – including 25,000 babies under 1 – live in a household where two of the three most ‘toxic’ risk factors are present. Yet only 58,000 0-4 year olds have been identified by local authorities as being even in the lower level risk category, ‘in need’, if we exclude those who are looked after or on a child protection plan. The corresponding figure for babies under 1 is 10,840. This suggests that there are around 100,000 young children (0-5) living in high risk households – which we define as having two out of three ‘toxic trio’ issues – who are not recognised as ‘children in need’. That includes 14,000 babies under the age of 1.

Alice Miles, the Children’s Commissioner’s Director of Strategy and author of the report, said:

“This analysis suggests there are many thousands of babies living in households carrying very high risks, many of whom may not even be known to social services. We know infants are especially vulnerable to being harmed by parental abuse or neglect. With local authorities under such pressure financially, and troubled families funding coming to an end in 2020, it’s vital that ministers make the protection of vulnerable children a priority in policy and funding. The country is rightly shocked and outraged when serious case reviews reveal the circumstances in which young children live and sometimes die; however, sadly these are the tip of the iceberg.”

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said:

“This important research shows hundreds of the most vulnerable young children are at risk of harm. As children’s services budgets come under increased pressure, we cannot just cross our fingers and hope for the best. Babies are too vulnerable and deserve better.  The Government has an opportunity in the Budget and next year’s spending review to make sure the funds are in place ensure that they are properly protected.”