Children at risk often missed, warn inspectors

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The Independent Online

Children at risk of abuse and neglect are routinely overlooked by social workers because of serious failings in the child protection system, a new report reveals.

Children at risk of abuse and neglect are routinely overlooked by social workers because of serious failings in the child protection system, a new report reveals.

An investigation by eight government inspectorates suggests that many social work teams are in disarray, with poor management, staff vacancies at record levels and staff overloaded with work.

As a result, social services departments are only pursuing cases "where evidence of abuse or neglect is very apparent" and refusing to follow up other cases, the joint report says.

The inadequate responses, and the failure of social services to provide enough advice and support is causing "serious concerns" for other professionals working with children.

They often find it "very difficult, if not impossible" to contact an experienced social worker with whom they can discuss a child's welfare or make a referral. Some agencies, including schools, have "lost confidence" in social work teams and no long report concerns about individual children, the report adds.

"The view was strongly held that social services were only responding to the highest levels of child welfare concerns where evidence of abuse was very apparent," it says.

"Lower level concerns that other agencies felt warranted follow-up were too often not accepted for a response or a service by social services."

The report continues: "This often left other agencies feeling responsible for working with situations that they considered posed high risks of harm to children's welfare, without the support of social services."

When children are placed on the child abuse register, they are allocated to social work staff who work well with staff from other agencies, the report says. But the quality of assessments of children is "disappointing" and services to support stressed families are also judged to be "quite inadequate."

Special multi-agency panels to monitor 42,000 potential child sex attackers are also criticised in the report. In some areas, very high-risk offenders are given priority while offenders perceived as medium or low-risk are receiving "very little or no supervision."

Many inquiries have been held into the deaths of children who have died after maltreatment by parents, carers or professionals in the past three decades and legislation has been reformed repeatedly.

But today's report, by the chief inspectors of social services, health, schools, police, probation, the Crown Prosecution Service and magistrates courts, says that the task of safeguarding children still does not have the priority it deserves.

The biggest concern is the shortage of public-sector professionals, which the inspectors say is having a "severe impact upon the quality of services and the inter-agency collaboration".

The recruitment crisis is most serious in social work, where teams rely heavily on agency staff. Denise Platt, the chief inspector of social services, said social work suffered from a poor image and from the way staff were "lambasted for making a mistake."

The review follows a government pledge in 1998 to inspect the system for safeguarding children every three years.

¿ The NSPCC has demanded urgent government action to cut child abuse killings, describing Britain's infant murder rates as "a national disgrace".

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