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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower