HEREFORDSHIRE now has a higher than the national rate of children in need or at risk.

A new report confirms that the number of children on protection plans or in the care of Herefordshire Council has been rising for the past five years.

The rise also puts the county’s rate as the highest of its statistical neighbours.

Many of the children the statistics refer to are victims of abuse or neglect with domestic violence the prevalent factor.

A major OFSTED inspection of the council’s “inadequate” child safeguarding is underway and due to release its findings in July.

The service has been ranked amongst the worst in the country since 2012 with the council already acknowledging that improvements since still have some way to go.

Ahead of OFSTED , the latest Understanding Herefordshire report – an annual assessment of integrated needs in county -  says the county now has a higher than the national average rate of children being “in need”, subject to protection plans and in the care of the council or “looked after”.

This rate, says the report, has been rising for the past five years and is the highest amongst the county’s statistical neighbours.

As a consequence, the overall number of children in need – including those looked after and on protection plans – has been increasing over the same period.

Defined by the 1989 Children Act,  a child in need is a child unlikely to achieve a “reasonable standard” of health or development without the provision of services by a local authority; likely to be significantly impaired, or  further impaired, without these services; or if he/she is disabled.

Figures for Understanding Herefordshire show 1,630 children in the county are classified as in need with 239 on protection plans and 216 looked after.

Abuse and neglect accounted for 68% of all looked after children cases reviewed over 2012.

Domestic violence is shown to the most prevalent type of abuse and neglect for both children in need and looked after children, accounting for 30%
and 68% of  all cases respectively.T

here is no single data base in the county that allows for those  children exposed to domestic violence abuse to be identified.

West Mercia Women’s Aid and the police estimate that around 300-400 children are exposed to domestic  violence per month – with some of these cases likely to be same children repeatedly.

Outcomes for looked after children in the county are listed by Understanding Herefordshire as “very poor”  compared to their  peers nationally and in comparator areas.

The percentages, for instance, for children who had their dental and annual health assessment seem to have dropped from 2012 to 2013.

Since 2011, none of the  approximately 200  looked after children in the county have had d an up to  date immunisation status or a development assessment, according to reported figures.

At all key stages, looked after children perform worse than their peers.

In addition to the above, the children’s integrated needs assessment includes analyses of profiles of vulnerable children as defined by legislations and policies, including homeless children, children exposed to domestic violence abuse, disabled children, young carers, young offenders, Gypsy Roma Travellers and care leavers.

The key findings of these were:

• The county’s homelessness rate is the second highest compared to statistical neighbours, with over half of households labelled homeless having dependent  children - a total of 201 in the first three quarters of  2013-14.

• Based on data modelling, Herefordshire has approximately 1,000-1,810 children experiencing some form of disability. Five per cent of children in need are as a result of their disability. There is no mandatory data base recording disabled children in the county.

• There are 311 young carers registered with the Carer’s support, the majority aged between 11-15 with over half looking after their mothers.

• Around 113 county 10-17-year-old’s entered the youth justice system for the first time.

• There are currently 255 Gypsy, Roma Travellers aged under 20 known to the council and education attainment is noted to be improving amongst this group.