Northern Ireland news

More than 2,300 children in care for more than a year - highest level for 15 years

Children under five saw the highest proportion of placement changes - 25 per cent (picture posed)

THE number of children who have been in care for more than a year is the highest for 15 years, with a quarter of under-fives going through the upheaval of moving between placements.

The latest figures, released by the Department of Health yesterday, paint a bleak picture of increased school suspension, substance abuse and criminality.

As of September 30 2017, 2,325 children in Northern Ireland had been `continuously in care' for more than 12 months.

It's at its highest since 2002, with 57 per cent more children being looked after under the supervision of health and social service trusts since 2006 alone.

Northern Ireland is also seeing more referrals to children's services and registration for child protection.

The department said the increases may be explained by "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".

Almost half of the children (43 per cent) were from the 20 per cent `most deprived' parts of Northern Ireland - with just six per cent from the `least deprived' areas.

Most of the children (1,055) were placed in `non-kinship' foster care, with 818 fostered within their wider family, 282 with a parent, 126 in children's homes and the situation of two per cent living independently, in assessment centres, community placements, supported accommodation, hospitals and juvenile justice centres.

Two thirds of the 71 children adopted from non-kinship foster care were placed with the family that had been looking after them.

There were 118 children identified as having a substance abuse problem, with one in five aged 16 and over in thrall to addiction.

The figures reveal 11 per cent of children suffering a substance abuse problem were not offered intervention.

Meanwhile, 98 children over the age of nine were "cautioned or convicted of an offence whilst in care" - three percentage point higher than the number in England, although a reduction on the year before.

Almost a fifth of children changed placement at least once during the year, with 41 per cent of these cases "due to a breakdown" in the relationship.

Placement stability is associated with better outcomes for children in care.

The Health and Social Care (Commissioning Plan) Direction (Northern Ireland) states "85 per cent of children in care for 12 months or longer should have no placement changes during the last year" - except where there is an adoption.

This target was not met and children under five and those over 15 saw the highest proportion of placement changes - 25 per cent and 23 per cent.

However, 24 of those under five's moves involved adoption.

Children in care were also more likely to be suspended from school - seven per cent, compared with 1.4 per cent of general school population.

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