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Fri, 25 September 2020

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Overstretched and overloaded: social workers feel powerless to help neglected children

Action for Children

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More than 40 per cent of social workers have felt powerless to intervene in cases of child neglect, with nearly a third saying they lack the necessary time and resources, according to a survey published by Action for Children today, 11 March 2015.

One in three social workers said reduced funding would make it more difficult to intervene in these cases over the next year. These shocking figures come at a time when more resources are needed than ever to tackle child neglect: nearly 30 per cent of children’s social workers told Action for Children they had seen an increase in such cases over the past year.

The charity surveyed 1,101 professionals who work directly with children, including teachers, medical professionals and police.

Action for Children chief executive Sir Tony Hawkhead said: “We cannot go on like this. Limited resources, increasing caseloads and professionals feeling powerless are combining to create a perfect storm putting children in danger.

“Social workers want to help children in need, but relying on crisis response alone is unsustainable. The most effective way to take pressure off services is to invest far more existing funding in early action because in the majority of cases, neglect can be prevented or reduced.

“There are so many stages at which parents can be supported to be the best parents they can be before child protection services have to intervene to take drastic action. Children’s centres, parenting support programmes and targeted, intensive work with families can prevent under-pressure households from boiling over.”

Public demands echo this call, as over half of the general population told Action for Children that supporting parents and families before cases of neglect got worse should be a top government priority.

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) added: “Neglect is not always visible or easily identifiable but it is child abuse that can impair a child’s transition into adulthood and cause emotional damage that lasts for a lifetime.

“The thresholds for intervention are becoming higher and higher meaning that social workers can only intervene in the most serious of cases. Social workers go into the job wanting to help children and we share their concerns that a basic lack of preventative services is leaving too many children at risk.”

The survey also found social workers were not the only professionals feeling helpless to intervene in cases of child neglect:

- 30 per cent of police officers felt powerless to intervene
- 23 per cent of doctors felt powerless
- 37 per cent of head teachers felt powerless

Neglect is the most frequent reason for a child protection referral to social services and features in 60 per cent of serious case reviews into the death or serious injury of a child. A child experiences neglect when the adults who look after them fail to meet their needs. It can be emotional as well as physical with children not receiving basic daily care, warmth, stimulation, boundaries, being left alone, or not receiving medical care. It has far reaching consequences and can affect all aspects of a child’s development.

Action for Children is calling for a national strategy to tackle child neglect to support local areas take early action. For more information see the charity’s report, Child Neglect: The Scandal That Never Breaks.

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