THE recession and the Baby P case prompted a massive increase in the number of children on the ‘at risk’ register in Lancashire, it was revealed today.

More than 800 children in the area are now subject to child protection plans or have suffered ‘significant’ harm or abuse.

The total is up 36 per cent since the horrific death of Baby Peter in Haringey, London, was revealed in 2008.

Social services bosses said they had received a surge in tip-offs about possible abuse after the 17-month-old was found dead with 50 injuries.

And they also said the recession had played a major role in rising neglect.

Following a Freedom of Information request, the Lancashire Telegraph found 658 youngsters in the county council area and 168 children in Blackburn with Darwen have suffered from emotional abuse, neglect, physical abuse or neglect.

In a year Lancashire County Council social services received 5,843 child care referrals and between the start of April 2009 and end of February there were 2,955 referrals made to Blackburn with Darwen social services with seven children placed into emergency care.

An NSPCC spokesperson said even the increase in cases may only be an indication of the ‘true extent of abuse’.

The charity said: “Research continues to indicate that a lot of abuse never comes to light.

“It is vital that neighbours, friends and family members who have concerns about a child’s safety contact the police, social services or the NSPCC helpline.”

Ushra Mansuri, of the British Association of Social Workers, said: “If you speak to social workers on the ground they would say the system is in crisis.

“They think ‘how can I really feel confident I have a grasp on all the children I'm responsible for?’”

The county council has approved an extra £5 million for vulnerable children and young people.

Over the next four years, the money will be used to develop an early intervention and prevention strategy, which will tackle potential problems before they escalate, and strengthen child protection services.

The county council has 580 children in care in East Lancashire.

Removing a child from parents or carers was ‘rare’ and carried out as a last resort, the county said.

County Coun Susie Charles, cabinet member for children and schools, said: "Child protection is of paramount importance to us and we take each case very seriously.

"We have seen a rise in referrals due to nationwide publicity.

"We have recently approved an extra £5 million for early intervention and prevention work with families, and we are using part of that to recruit more social workers to deal with the extra caseload.

"The investment will also help us to tackle potential problems before they escalate and strengthen child protection services.

"We are also recruiting to increase our fantastic band of foster carers who take children and young people into their homes, show them love and understanding, and help them deal with whatever life has thrown at them."

Gladys Rhodes, strategic director for Blackburn with Darwen Children’s Services said staff used stringent guidelines set by local authorities to decide whether a child should be pulled out of their home.

She said: “Children can be made subject to a child protection plan if they are at significant risk of harm or abuse.

"If there are several children within one family considered to be at risk, each child must have their own child protection plan.”

There are even unborn children on the register in Blackburn and Darwen.

In these cases conferences are held with the mother and other agencies to set up a strategy to protect the child.

If a child is deemed to be in serious danger they will be removed from the mother's care at birth.

However Mrs Rhodes issued a warning: "We are concerned that we are moving towards a situation where society’s expectation is that the state will police families that aren’t able to care safely for their children and that’s not good for the children or the adults.

“We are putting in a whole range of services to support communities and families because we want parents to be able to care for their children safely and appropriately.

“As well as professional staff, we’d like to see family, friends and neighbours watching out for people who are struggling and to be able to help and support them before they reach crisis point.”

Neglect and emotional abuse are the main reasons for over three quarters of child protection plans in East Lancashire, similar to findings regionally and nationally.