Recent child protection statistics show a 7% increase since 2005 in the number of children subject to child protection plans. This might suggest that professional interventions are in place for abused children. But this optimism may block us from recognising when things are going wrong.
The prevention agenda, which has distracted professional attention from pro-active child protection work, began in 1995. Since then the number of children on the child protection register has decreased by one third. The numbers of children registered for neglect and emotional abuse, since 2000, have increased while those for sexual and physical abuse have almost halved with totals of just 2,500 and 5,100 respectively (Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2007).
Given the population of 11 million children in England, such low figures do not reflect known prevalence rates for sexual and physical abuse. While not every case will require a child protection plan, many abused children are still not gaining a protective response or justice, even when they are victims of serious crime.
The statistics also confirm that core assessments are being conducted within prescribed timescales but child protection investigations cannot be restricted by time. To gain an abused child’s trust, collate information about an alleged abuser, gain the co-operation of a non-abusive parent, and have multi-agency debate and analysis of the risk of harm to the child, may take months of complex work.
Working Together guidance, which states that a core assessment is the means by which a section 47 enquiry is carried out, is wrong because investigation is a separate joint process with police that includes a focus on the abuser. Systems and structures previously supporting effective protection work such as the child protection register, specialist teams and joint investigation have been removed leaving social workers ill-equipped to protect children.
Research to track child protection referrals is urgently needed to scrutinise the failure in statutory responses to child victims of sexual and physical harm.
Liz Davies, senior lecturer children and families social work, London Metropolitan University
* Department for Children, Schools and Families, National Statistics. Referrals, assessments and child protection and young people who are the subject of a child protection plan or are on child protection registers, England ending 31 March, 2007
* Department for Educaton and Skills, Working Together to Safeguard Children, 2006