‘We have cases where a child is going to care before they are born’

Huge scale: Blackpool has the highest levels of children in care in the country
Huge scale: Blackpool has the highest levels of children in care in the country

As details of a £45m scheme to improve children’s lives is revealed, a new report lifts the lid on the scale of youngsters in care

Almost 80 children aged under three are living in care in Blackpool, a shocking new report has revealed.

And the town has the highest number of looked-after children in the country, according to research which has lifted the lid on the true scale of a deeply worrying trend.

The startling statistics, which one town hall boss today admitted were a major concern, is just one of the reasons the resort is about to embark on a far-reaching campaign to tackle the high levels of disadvantage faced by children in Blackpool.

In June this year, a partnership in the town led by the NSPCC along with the council and local health organisations, was awarded £45m for the Better Start initiative which will see measures introduced over the next 10 years to ensure babies born in the resort get a better chance in life.

Another £30m of public funds will be ring-fenced for the project.

Risk

And it comes as the report, prepared for Blackpool Council’s health and wellbeing panel, reveals 78 of the 434 children in care are aged under three and from the poorest wards of Bloomfield, Brunswick, Claremont, Clifton, Park, Talbot and Victoria, which Better Start will focus on.

Shockingly, Coun Ivan Taylor, the cabinet member for children’s services at Blackpool Council, says some children are effectively identified as needing to go into care “before they are born”.

He said: “Very often problems manifest themselves very, very early and in fact we do have cases where the child is going into care before they are born because of the circumstances, such as the parent can’t look after the child and the child would be at some level of risk.

“It may surprise people but we do have quite a lot of children coming into care at a very young age.”

He added: “The number of people we have in the care system is too high and we want to get that down but we have to do that in a way that is safe.”

The report says: “Large numbers of babies in our town are exposed to parental problems of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic abuse.

“Women’s risk of suffering domestic abuse for example, is estimated to be nearly four times the national average.”

One in five babies in the target wards were born after an “unhealthy gestation” which includes being born to mothers who used drugs, alcohol or tobacco during their pregnancy, it adds.

Experts say the poor start leads to youngsters growing up with poor speaking and listening skills or conditions such as hyperactivity which affects their chances at school.

The report adds: “Against this backdrop of disadvantage it would be easy to become fatalistic and write off the children and families of Blackpool.

“On the contrary, it is precisely because of the scale of the challenge, that we are so united in our determination to turn things around.”

Coun Taylor said many of the projects that the £45m will be spent on over the next decade are still being developed.

He also said it must be demonstrated that the cash is being spent on schemes which are ‘sustainable’ – in other words will last well beyond the 10 years of the project.

But it has been confirmed that four public health campaigns will be run, with the first being on the impact of alcohol misuse by parents.

The scheme is not just aimed at children in care but will look to give all children who need a better start help.

Initiatives will include:

Expansion of the family nurse partnership programme to reach all under-20s in the town

Making services more accessible by putting them in GP surgeries and children’s centres

Recruiting community champions to mentor young parents

Creating a ‘Beach School’ – where children are encouraged to treat Blackpool’s 11 mile coastline like a big outdoor play and learning area.

The report was presented to this month’s meeting of Blackpool’s health and wellbeing panel chaired by Coun Eddie Collett, cabinet member for health.

Coun Collett said after the meeting: “We know the challenge is going to be huge, and at the moment we are just at the start of this 10-year process.

“We have to be innovative in our approach and also we absolutely have to make this work, because the statistics are shocking, as are some of the individual circumstances that we come across.

“One of our first priorities will be around alcohol misuse and getting education out there that it really is not a good idea to be drinking during pregnancy. We know there is a problem with alcohol misuse across Blackpool and in particular in some areas.”

Coun Taylor said: “We are still working on the programme and what we are going to do. I am as confident as I can be but we have to do things that are going to have an impact and if we find they are not having an impact, we will have to stop and try something else.”

He added: “We see some bad cases but we have got to stay positive.”

What is Better Start?

The Better Start programme has been described as a “once in a lifetime opportunity to turn things around” for Blackpool’s youngest children.

It is being funded by a £45m grant from the Big Lottery Fund announced in June. The partners – Blackpool Council, the NSPCC and health organisations – have agreed to contribute another £30m.

It is aimed at children in seven of the town’s most disadvantaged wards in the resort and ensure that they are given a “better start” by making sure they have a healthy gestation and birth and that they are properly prepared to start school.

The ways in which this will be achieved are still being finalised – but some ideas are detailed above.

It is expected to help transform the lives of 9,000 babies.

The full scale of the problems...

Figures released last year

by the Child Poverty Action Group revealed there were currently:

n 9,500 children living in poverty in Blackpool

n Bloomfield is the worst affected ward, with 54 per cent of children living in poverty and average life expectancy is only age 72

n Currently 30 per cent of mothers smoke during pregnancy, while 
only just over half try to breastfeed their babies

n The resort has the highest number of looked after children in England – 434 – and 78 of those are under the age of three

n Blackpool also has high teenage pregnancy rates, with around one in 20 girls aged 15-17 conceiving each year

n One in five babies in the seven targeted wards experienced ‘unhealthy gestation’

...and how cash will be spent

Some of the schemes which will be included in the £45m programme are:

Expansion of the family nurse partnership. Two extra nurses have already been recruited to extend the nurse-led home visiting programme to all parents under the age of 20

Expansion of ‘Baby Steps’ – a programme which promotes healthy relationships and child development to new parents

Expansion of ‘Food Dudes’ – a programme which provides parents with advice about healthy eating

Parents Under Pressure – a 20-week intensive programme, originally developed in Australia, for parents receiving drug or alcohol treatment

Star Buddies – a programme which supports breastfeeding among new mums

The development of a Blackpool ‘beach school’, using the resort’s 11 miles of coastline as an outdoor play area, developing skills by allowing youngsters to play and learn outdoors.

The partners involved in the scheme consulted around 70 parents on what should be included in Better Start.

Coun Ivan Taylor said: “It is based on things like a farm school or forest school. The details of exactly how it will work are very much at an early stage.”