Social workers feel powerless to protect neglected children

Report warns of unduly high thresholds and inadequate resources to support needy families

Social workers have warned that neglected children are being left to languish in damaging situations because they are powerless to intervene.

A prohibitively high threshold for intervention is hampering social workers, as are inadequate resources and support services for needy families, according to Action for Children's first annual report on neglect.

Half of all social workers and more than a third of police officers surveyed feel powerless to intervene even when they suspect children are being left alone, ignored or deprived of food. A staggering 81 per cent of teachers and health workers have suspected neglect in a pupils or patient; about half say the threshold for reporting suspicions should be lower.

Neglect is the most common reason for children being placed under a protection plan by social workers, yet there is no reliable data on its true scale.

A growing body of research indicates that emotional and physical neglect, especially in the early years, has a harmful effect on brain development, the ability to form relationships and educational achievements and increases the risk of behavioural problems.

Experts fear that neglect is repeated in families, generation after generation, because parenting skills are not being learnt. Parents with addictions and serious mental-health problems may also be at risk of neglecting a child if left unsupported.

The report, published in conjunction with the University of Stirling, underlines the pressing need for local and central government to collect more data, which is currently sparse and difficult to compare.

Professor Corinne May-Chahal, co-chair of the College of Social Work, said: "Unlike physical and sexual abuse, where the signs can often be very obvious, identifying neglect is more complex, creating a barrier [to] getting the child and family the help they desperately need.

"The system falls short in providing the safety and security neglected children need. It is important that social workers are given a stronger role in early intervention and that services are appropriately organised to achieve this aim."

Today's research suggests the public and professionals are becoming more alert to neglect, though many are still unsure about how to intervene.

Neglected children will draw heavily upon public resources throughout their lifetimes, making it everyone's business to ensure those identified, are helped quickly, it argues.

In 2010, the Coalition asked Eileen Munro, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, to review child protection after several tragic cases involving child neglect and abuse.

The Children's minister, Tim Loughton, said: "Professor Munro identified that services are often too reactive and we are now helping children's services, police and the NHS to work together and focus on early identification before problems escalate. We're freeing social workers from bureaucracy, reducing statutory guidance, so they have more time and space for proper assessments."

However, the charity is disappointed that the Government rejected the need for new legislation requiring authorities to provide early intervention services for neglected children and their families.

How neglect led to death: Khyra Ishaq

One of the most immediate concerns associated with serious neglect is that other forms of abuse could follow. Seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq, above, from Birmingham, died in May 2008; she had been starved to death by her mother and her mother's boyfriend.

Khyra had been taken out of school six months before she died and was made to stand outside in the garden in the cold. She was also beaten and subjected to other forms of physical torture. But long before things escalated to such a tragic end, members of the public and her school had raised the alarm about her physical condition with social services. The serious case review said several opportunities to intervene and save Khyra's life had been missed.

Even though neglect can go hand in hand with other forms of abuse, it can be hugely damaging in its own right, Action for Children says.

A social worker's view: We need early referrals and the resources

Amy, a children's social worker in London: "Neglect is much more subtle than other types of abuse such as physical or sexual abuse where we can present the court with hard evidence... neglect occurs over a period of time and the effects are cumulative, so the longer we leave a child in that situation, the worse the impact on their future.

"We need people to make referrals early on so we can deal with things quickly; if we have four or five referrals about the same child, that will help us build up a picture. We must also have the resources for early intervention services such as Sure Start and parenting support groups that kick in at the point we have identified a need, so that families can try to turn things around.

"We do not want to get to the point when we have to go court because things are so bad, we want to support children and their families beforehand. But sometimes it can feel like you're waiting for things to get worse."

Interviews with a mother and soon provided by Action for Children:

Right-click here and click "save target as" to download the interview with Bob

Right-click here and click "save target as" to download the interview with Mary

Suggested Topics
News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits