New figures mark a 13per cent increase over two years deemed at risk of physical or emotional negligence
Campaigners said to put unborn children on register presumes parents will be negligent
Failed: Baby P, Peter Connelly died after abuse was missed
Thousands of babies are being put on ‘at risk’ registers by social workers before they are even born, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
And campaigners say the system is weighted to presume that parents will be unable to adequately care for their children.
New figures released under Freedom of Information laws show that more than 4,000 child protection plans – which are automatically implemented for those registered as at risk – were initiated last year in England for babies still in the womb, which represents a 13 per cent increase over two years.
The figure for the UK as a whole is likely to be nearer 5,000, and hundreds of babies are being taken into care each year within days of birth.
Most put on the registers were deemed at risk of neglect or of physical or emotional abuse, while others were exposed to dangers associated with having parents who were drug addicts, alcoholics or had serious criminal convictions.
Child protection experts insist it is right to keep newborns away from potentially dangerous parents, and argue they have to be more cautious following cases such as the death of Baby P, later named as Peter Connelly, and four-year-old Daniel Pelka, who was starved and beaten by his mother and her lover, finally dying of a severe head injury.
But opponents of the system say that it presumes guilt and that social workers are removing children to cover their own backs.
John Hemming, a Lib Dem MP and vocal critic of the fostering and adoption process, said: ‘There can be good reasons to put an unborn child on a child protection plan.
‘But the system can lead to the wrongful removal of very young babies for all sorts of strange reasons. Once children are removed, only about 20 per cent go back to their parents.’
He continued: ‘With child protection, not every case is a Baby P case. But I know that social workers have been fired for saying that a child should go home to its parents. If you put them under that sort of pressure, they are going to say the child should be adopted.’
Ian Josephs, who provides informal legal advice to parents, said: ‘These parents are being punished without committing a crime. In the family courts, they are guilty until proven innocent.’
A child may be put on a protection register if doctors or social workers fear for its safety. The parents are invited to discuss the matter but do not have to be present for the child to be placed on the register. No court order is needed.
Cautionary tale: Four-year-old Daniel Pelka died from a head injury after being starved and beaten by his mother and her lover
Once a child is registered as at risk, a protection plan will be drawn up. In most cases, it will prescribe regular visits from social workers to check on the child.
But the plans can also be a precursor to court proceedings that will have the child taken into care.
The latest figures from the Department for Education show that 52,120 under-18s became the subject of child protection plans in England in the year ending March 31 2012.
Separate statistics obtained by this newspaper show that at least 4,044 – or almost eight per cent – related to unborn babies. That number grew to 4,153 in the year to March 2013, and was up 13 per cent over two years.
The true numbers are likely to be higher still because 41 of 152 councils failed to respond.
Those that did reply took 179 infants into care on the day they were born, in the year to March 2013. Many more are likely to have been removed within a few weeks.
Bridget Robb, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said: ‘No professional wants to see children subjected to child protection plans.
‘But the increased vigilance arising from baby Peter Connelly’s tragic death has inevitably exposed more instances where sufficiently serious concern exists that children’s services feel the need to at least monitor a family closely.’
SOURCE: The Mail on Sunday