Why are more babies being taken into care in Suffolk?
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There has been a spike in babies – including newborns – being taken into care in Suffolk over the last year, it has been revealed.
Some of the children, all aged under one, are born addicted to drugs or alcohol after their mothers continued with substance abuse during their pregnancies - with foster carers and adopters offered specialist training to tackle withdrawal symptoms.
Why has there been a spike?
The rise, from 43 babies in the 2018/19 financial year to 66 so far this year, is reflective of national trends, children's services chiefs say.
It may also be down to various organisations, from hospitals to the Suffolk Fostering and Adoption Service, working together and using new methods of identifying children who are most at risk.
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Mary Evans, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for children's services, education and skills, said: "These are all babies who our teams thought were at severe risk.
"It has been a spike, but that's not that there's a huge crisis.
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"This year we've had this particular different challenge, which we've met and coped with."
Alcohol and drug abuse 'plays a role'
Cliff James, head of corporate parenting for Suffolk, said issues that lead to very young children entering care include alcohol and drug abuse.
"The issues are often linked to alcohol and drug abuse in parents, or serious domestic violence or serious neglect, and some of that is linked to mental health problems," he said.
"So people are often taking drugs almost self-administering substances to help them try and deal with some of the complexities in their life - they are using drugs as an escape, but it actually exacerbates the problem.
MORE: Babies addicted to drugs - Midwives share plight of newborns at our hospitals"It can take three to four months for a child to actually work through some of the consequences of actually suffering abuse - their sleep patterns are affected, it has implications for their cognitive development.
"What they (prospective foster carers/adopters) will do is go into hospital where the child is and spend a lot of time with the child, being with the child, building those bonds and then taking them home from hospital.
"It's that sort of attention that makes a huge difference, and enables the child to settle."
Why are babies sometimes removed from their parents?
All children go through a 'screening' process - and with newborns midwifery services will help the fostering and adoption service to identify certain risks, for instance if a child is born addicted.
This has improved in recent years, and could go some way to explaining why there are more babies entering care in Suffolk, Mr James added.
"Sadly in some of these cases there is a bit of a history - somebody's had a previous child in care, or previous difficulties," he said.
"Where we can place children within the family we will try and do that, if it's safe to do that.
"It isn't about taking children away from their families unless we absolutely have to."
Mother and baby placements are also available in Suffolk, which allows the child to stay with a parent, often young single mums, but with additional support.
- Find out more about these here.So what about older children?
This year's increase in children entering care isn't just confined to babies, with more youngsters between the ages of five and 16 moving through the system in 2019/20.
At the end of the last financial year, 50 children were waiting to be placed by adoption services in Suffolk, of 4,330 youngsters nationally, according to the charity First4Adoption.Several hundreds of children - with an average of 300 children entering and 300 leaving - can be seen by fostering and adoption services in any given year in Suffolk.
"The point I want to get across is that people want to do this (fostering and adoption)," Mr James added.
"With adolescents it is more of a challenge - these very young children move through the system very quickly.
"Often, it's linked to the court timescale of six months, or 26 weeks.
"By and large we need to agree a plan for the child within this time. Older children, from five to 16, will stay with us longer."
How can I get involved?
There are a variety of different options in fostering and adoption in Suffolk.
For more information, visit their website.