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Social workers’ practice helps half rate of child abuse deaths

Improved practice by social workers has contributed to a near-halving of the number of child abuse-related deaths in England and Wales since 1974, according to a report from Bournemouth University.

The research, due to be published in the British Journal of Social Work later this year found that England and Wales had experienced an overall drop in child killings of 47%, and are now ranked as fourth lowest of comparable nations. They had been rated fourth highest.

Child homicide rates actually fell by nearly 90% over the period, with just three children per million currently falling into this category. However, “undetermined deaths” – those that may have, but cannot be proven to have involved child abuse – went up.

Report authors Colin Pritchard and Richard Williams said: “Of course, one violent death of one child is one too many, and the numbers of children in the UK today who are still in need are no grounds for complacency.

“But perhaps it is time to give some credit to the improvements of the past 10 and 20 years to frontline social workers and the child protection services in England and Wales, which can match the best in the world.”

Shireen Ritchie, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, agreed.

“The news that the number of children dying at the hands of others has fallen so far since the 1970s is a testament to the hard work put in by frontline staff in councils, as well as in the police and health service.

“Social workers do complex and demanding jobs, making delicate decisions which can change the path of people’s lives. The difference they make is clear. It’s important we all spare a thought for the effort social workers put in, which is often unobserved and unappreciated.”

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