Shocking extent of resort’s child neglect

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NO more excuses – something must be done!

That was the message from the head of Blackpool Council after shocking figures revealed the staggering number of neglected children in the resort.

It came after children’s charity the NSPCC announced an alarming rise in the number of youngsters being left cold, hungry and alone.

In Blackpool alone last year child protection plans were drawn up for 383 children – in some cases almost a third more than in similar sized North West towns like Blackburn, Bolton or Wigan.

But Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn has pledged to overhaul the care system in the resort – in a move he hopes will improve children’s lives while improving service and driving down costs.

Coun Blackburn told The Gazette: “There is an awful lot of stuff going on, but fundamentally the welfare of children is uppermost in my mind. However much it costs we will make sure children are safeguarded in this town.

“What we must not do is be complacent about it, we have to look at different ways and we have to look at why the situation in Blackpool is how it is. With so many more kids on child protection plans than comparable authorities.

“Some of that is down to the Blackpool demographic and transients, but when we’ve analysed it that has been used as an excuse for many years for too many kids in care and some schools having poor exam results.

“What we found was 75 per cent of the children involved are Blackpool born and bred.”

The NSPCC has warned the spiralling number of neglect cases, which saw the number of calls to its helpline double over the past two years, is putting an ever increasing strain on local authorities and leaving youngsters in danger.

More than 200 of the 1,419 calls received came from Lancashire.

At the forefront of the battle against neglect, Coun Blackburn is already working on improving “early intervention” and installing a system he hopes will cut costs and keep children out of care.

He added: “I’m fairly relaxed about an increase in the number of referrals because I would rather get 10 referrals and only end up taking one as far as protection plan stage than miss a struggling child. But I’m concerned our early intervention help and support is not right.

“At the moment we’re spending an awful lot of money on a wide variety of different early intervention projects and as yet I see no evidence they are working. We are in the midst of an overhaul of that service because I think it’s important to know which of the things we’re doing is having an impact.

“Sensible investment in early intervention is important and I don’t think we’ve got that right yet.”

The council has also arranged to buy in legal help from Lancashire County Council in a bid to speed up the court process and ensure youngsters who are ready to leave the care system are able to do so.

The resort’s child neglect record was thrust into the spotlight last month when a mother and step-father were jailed for forcing an 11-year-old to live in a converted coal bunker. Of the calls it received last year, the NSPCC had to call in the police or children’s services in 1,090 cases because of their severity.

Maureen Horn, chairman of Grange Park residents association, said parents often needed more support to care for their children.

She added: “Communities, local authorities and the Government have got to come together and start doing something – not just for the children but for their families.

“Finance is a big thing and people are really struggling at the moment.

“Clothes go first and it is a struggle to buy food for these kids, so that becomes child neglect, but whose fault is it? We are very quick in this country to start condemning the individual, but we need to start helping people.”

Gwen King, chairman of the Queens Park Tenants Association, agreed educating parents was important.

She added: “In Brunswick ward there are a lot of latch key kids, who regularly come home to an empty house, and the neglect is more a case of the adults not having any parenting skills.

“If mum and dad go out for a drink I’ve known them to leave kids on their own. It’s not acceptable but some people don’t realise that.”