|Social changes blamed for huge rise in Dundee children needing council care|
|Written by The Courier|
|Wednesday, 23 May 2012|
An erosion of social values and an increase in family break-ups are being blamed for the record high number of Dundee children in council care.
A Courier investigation has discovered the number of youngsters in foster or residential care has rocketed to 734 — a startling 35% jump from 2007.
The increase comes four years after the tragic case of 23-month-old Brandon Muir who was killed at the hands of his mother's lover Robert Cunningham.
The tragedy led to improvements in the city council's social work department and raised awareness among the public.
But with the rise in the number of youngsters now being looked after by the local authority, it is the taxpayers who must cope with the ''phenomenal burden'' to fund the vital service.
That is according to the Rev David Robertson from the Free Church of Scotland in Dundee, who said: ''It's really disquieting that so many children have to be taken into care. I think it's appalling that number of children are so neglected that they have to be taken into care.
''It is like what David Cameron has said — the breakdown of the family unit is having an impact and that is one of the most obvious things happening at the moment.
''In the Bible it says 'you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind'. Because we have neglected the family we are really seeing that now. It will take a lot of time to sort but we have to do what we can to support these kids.''
Independent councillor Ian Borthwick believes the rise is largely due to drug and alcohol abuse. He added that a lack of jobs is making matters worse.
''The main factor, I believe, is a high instance of drug and alcohol problems contributing to more children being taken into care," he said.
The Strathmartine councillor also warned there is no easy fix to this problem.
''It's education at every stage to ensure that families are given the opportunity of employment,'' he added. ''As a family's financial difficulties become more and more acute it increases the pressure. It's a recipe for real trouble and a problem that is manifesting at the moment.''
The council's social work department received an extra £1 million when it set its budget for 2011/12 and another £500,000 had been added for contingency funds.
Despite this, a department overspend of almost £2 million was revealed in a report before the policy and resources committee in December.
It stated: ''The majority of this overspend reflects cost pressures surrounding Children Services, where payments for family placements are expected to be greater than budgeted due to the increased number of children requiring permanent substitute care away from their birth parents.''
In Scotland last year there were 16,171 children looked after by local authorities, an increase of 2% since 2010, according to the Scottish Government.
The number of looked-after children has increased every year since 2001, and is at its highest since 1981.
Jim Wallace, acting head of Children's Services at Barnardo's Scotland, said: ''For many years we have been aware of the poor educational attainment of looked-after children, we have been concerned about the high incidence of mental health difficulties that impact on their daily lives, concerned about how they fair as care leavers knowing too many end up homeless or in custody.
''Numerous initiatives have been instigated to make improvements but in truth despite the efforts of many committed professionals in health, social work, education and the voluntary sector little meaningful progress has been made.
''In Scotland we need to fundamentally rethink how we deliver services and support looked-after children and care leavers.''