Social services and health professionals are struggling to prevent death and serious injury among abused and neglected children in England, according to a government-commissioned report.
The research , carried out by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, found the risk of children dying from abuse or neglect could be reduced through more practitioner support and improved inter-agency working.
Of 161 serious case reviews studied in England between April 2003 and March 2005, two-thirds of the children died and the rest were seriously injured. Almost half of the children were younger than 12 months.
In a quarter of cases, the children were aged between one and five while a further quarter were over 11, including a significant minority over 16. Of 106 fatalities, suicide was the known or probable cause of death of 14 adolescents.
Preoccupied with eligibility
Researchers revealed 55% of the children were known to children’s social care at the time of the incident and 12% were on the child protection register.
It also found 83% of the families involved had been previously known to children’s social care.
Crucially, the report revealed all agencies were preoccupied with eligibility for services rather than having a primary concern for the welfare of the child. Poor inter-agency communication was also common.
Agencies were blamed for neglecting “hard to help” older children, particularly those older than 13, and were found to waste time arguing over who was responsible for their care.
In families where children had suffered long-term neglect, social workers often failed to take account of past history.
The report’s lead author, Marian Brandon, a child care specialist at UEA, said the findings made powerful reading. “Though the majority of these cases were essentially unpredictable, our findings suggest that risk could be minimised if practitioners were more curious and thought more critically and more systematically.”
Brandon said many practitioners lacked support and worked in teams depleted by staff absence and long term sickness.
“In many cases families were known to adult services and not just to children’s services. There needs to be a shift so that children and whole families are a priority for all agencies, not just those directed at children.”