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Record number of children at risk of abuse or neglect - Blackpool 5 times national average

A record number of children are at risk of abuse or neglect in England, according to a study of new Government data.

Serious child protection cases known as "Section 47s" have doubled in the last seven years to record highs.

The number of Section 47 investigations this year is 185,450.

That means one child in every 65 is the focus of a multi-agency investigation.

There are, however, huge regional differences: in Blackpool the figure is one in 14.

Blackpool is where children appear to be most at risk, with investigation figures five times the national average.

Sky News went to the town and met young people who had been through the care system.

One said that many children slept rough, adding: "I know some kids who slept on the beach, or in the toilets, even in bins."

Children's services in Blackpool are struggling.

One of its main hostels shut down two years ago, while Street Life - a centre offering night shelter for young people - has had its local authority funding pulled.

The Department for Education figurs also show the number of children supported through child protection plans has almost doubled over the past 10 years, and this year saw the biggest annual increase in children in care since 2010.

Social workers say workloads have become unmanageable.

Experts also warn of "generational trauma" for children not receiving proper attention, which they say in the long run will be "unaffordable".

With reference to the tragedies of Baby P and Daniel Pelka, both toddlers who were killed in the care of their parents, one social worker said: "We are just waiting for something else to happen."

Sean Rafferty, who works in children's services, added: "People say we need better communication and we have, but we've also got a smaller pot.

"It's like an elastic band: you can stretch it and stretch it but eventually it's going to break."

Ray Jones, a veteran social worker and former professor at Kingston University, told Sky News: "Many services are at the point of breaking down.

"There is going to be a £2bn deficit in children's services by 2020, unless the Government changes its plans.

"What that means in reality is that workers are being run ragged, as are health visitors, police officers, and others in the child protection system."

Dr Ruth Allen, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, also partly blames Government policy.

She told Sky News: "The Government needs to see that those social policies on things like welfare benefits, on employment tax credits, housing, also impact the welfare of children.

"In the long run this means generational trauma for children."

Councillor Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said: "We have warned that the situation across children's services is fast becoming unsustainable, with a combination of reduced budgets and significantly increased demand for help and protection leaving many areas struggling to cope.

"Ninety children came into care every day last year, and council children's services will need an extra £2bn by 2020 just to keep current services in place.

"The Government needs to act urgently to give councils the funding they need to meet this growing demand, by using the Autumn Budget to close the £2bn funding gap facing children's services and provide additional investment for vital early intervention services to help families before problems become serious."

Responding to our report, Robert Goodwill, Minister for Children and Families, said: "All children deserve the best possible support which is why we are driving forward improvements across every area of the child protection system to identify those at risk sooner.

"This includes recruiting high-calibre social workers as well as improving multi-agency approaches to the prevention, detection and response to abuse.

"Councils have a duty to provide appropriate care for the children in their area, including responding to referrals.

"We are supporting them to deliver efficient services by investing £200m in the Children's Social Care Innovation Programme - this includes projects providing targeted support for children in need."

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