Page last updated at 18:37 GMT, Tuesday, 4 August 2009 19:37 UK

Baby P case sees abuse calls rise

Baby Peter
Baby Peter was on Haringey Council's child protection register when he died

The NSPCC has seen calls about serious child abuse to its helpline rise by more than a third since the death of Baby Peter, the charity has said.

It believes Peter's death two years ago in north London has made people more willing to report concerns about abuse.

The helpline passed on more than 11,000 suspected abuse cases to police and social services in the year to March.

Meanwhile, the union Unison says that social workers' morale has hit rock bottom in the wake of the baby's death.

Between April 2008 and March 2009, the NSPCC Helpline passed on 11,243 suspected child protection cases to police or social services.

'Good news'

In the year before Baby Peter's death, it made 8,170 referrals, while the following year the figure rose to 9,620, the charity said.

And the number of child abuse calls continues to grow.

In June the helpline referred more than 1,000 calls to agencies - more than one an hour.

Baby Peter has connected so powerfully with the British public, it's made that significant amount of difference to people's motivation to act
Wes Cuell

Peter died on 3 August 2007 at the age of 17 months after a period of sustained violent abuse, despite being on Haringey Council's child protection register.

Wes Cuell, from the NSPCC, said it was "very good news" people were acting on their concerns because as a society we are naturally reticent to "poke our noses" into other people's business.

He told the BBC: "I think Baby Peter has connected so powerfully with the British public, it's made that significant amount of difference to people's motivation to act."

And he added that while extra referrals would unavoidably add to the pressure and workload for social workers, it should not put people off from making "that phone call".

Workers struggling

Social worker and child protection consultant Joanna Nicolas told the BBC the profession is struggling to cope, with vacancy rates running at about 12%.

She said: "Social workers are spending too much time sitting at their desks, they're not getting out there with families. This isn't a new problem, but we should be out there with families."

The "constant vilification" by the press was not helping recruitment, she added.

Many of the calls to the helpline were about children being physically assaulted, sexually abused or badly neglected, the charity said. Most came from neighbours, relatives and friends of the family.

As the workload for social workers continues to grow, Unison, which represents 40,000 social workers, has warned they are struggling with extra paperwork from an increase in court referrals.

It said social workers were spending 80% of their time on paperwork and computer filing, and only 20% with their clients.

Dave Prentis, the union's general secretary, warned that social work vacancies were at "danger level", running at an average of 12% across the UK.

He said: "We need to see long-term solutions, not quick fixes such as recruiting social workers from abroad or trying to tempt retired social workers back into the profession."

Peter's 27-year-old mother was given an indefinite sentence with a minimum term of five years at the Old Bailey in May after pleading guilty to causing or allowing her son's death.

Her boyfriend, aged 32, was given a 12-year sentence for his role in Peter's death.

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