Children in poverty: 1.5m in Britain face each day without enough food and care

Study finds that professionals are struggling to cope

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Up to 1.5 million children across Britain go without food, care and education every day, new research into child neglect has shown.

Some 40 per cent of teachers, police officers and social workers in 27 Local Authorities around the country told investigators from YouGov and the University of Sterling that they regularly came into contact with deprived children, but felt powerless to help.

Neglect, which is defined by the government as a “persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological need”, is now a factor in 60 per cent of infant deaths or serious injuries, the findings say.

The shadow Children’s minister, Lisa Nandy, said the investigation, which is part of an ongoing project by Action for Children, shed light on a constant failure to protect vulnerable families.

“It’s a really shocking statistic, but it’s not a surprise given that there’s been a sharp increase in the stress on families, combined with cuts to local authorities,” she said.

“With all the focus being on free schools and academies, it leaves very little room for child protection. The Department for Education’s priorities are absolutely in the wrong order and a report like this should act as a wake-up call to ministers. They are creating a perfect storm; the situation for the most vulnerable children looks really bleak.”

The news comes a week after the Government faced criticism for announcing a further cut to early intervention measures of £17m next year and £32m in 2014/15. A Department for Education spokesman said: “We agree that we need to intervene early to help children at risk of abuse. We are cutting back the bureaucracy to let social workers get on with the job of protecting vulnerable children. Where children are suffering abuse or neglect they should be taken into care more quickly.”

Some 6,000 front-line workers and parents were polled between June and October last year as part of The State of Child Neglect report.

Just 12 per cent of staff in key intervention services said they felt able to intervene if necessary, adding to evidence that social services were over-stretched.

The annual report from the British Association of Social Workers, published in May, concluded 8 out 10 care workers already couldn’t manage growing workloads.

There were fewer than 23,000 children in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in child protection proceedings due to neglect, the Scottish university found, just 1.5 per cent of the total number of potentially neglected infants.

Half of those surveyed said cut-backs in on-the-ground funding had already made it more difficult to stop cases of neglect and 29 per cent of professionals feared further spending cuts would make intervention even more difficult.

Researchers concluded “government commitment to early help services is inconsistently translated into practice, with only piecemeal delivery in some local areas”.

Professor Corinne May-Cahal, the co-chair of the College of Social Work, said: “This report reaffirms the need for adequately funded universal early help services to support parents in crisis. We are increasingly concerned that a reduction in funding for preventative services will put increasing pressure on social workers.”

Dame Clare Tickell, CEO of Action for Children, said of the findings: “Vulnerable children are falling through the cracks of a protection system that is failing some of those who need it most – sometimes with tragic consequences.”

Case study: ‘I understand why my children were taken away’

Before her 20th birthday, Gemma had three children and a fourth on the way. Her partner, David, the father to her little girl, was controlling and often abusive. Their house was dirty, often without amenities, and she had no idea how to look after her growing family.

Social services intervened after the police were called. With support, and after her partner was imprisoned, she recovered.

“I understand why my children were taken away,” she says. “Although I still find it hard [the children remain in care], I accept that it was for the best. I’m determined to be a good mum.”