Social workers are effectively being pressurised to ignore child abuse as a result of budget cuts, an exclusive Community Care survey has revealed.
The poll of 170 frontline workers found that 58% believed pressure had been placed on them to reclassify child protection cases as less serious child-in-need cases.
More than four-fifths of respondents felt child protection thresholds had increased in their area over the past year.
Half had experienced increased thresholds in cases of neglect, 44% in emotional abuse cases, 24% in physical abuse cases and 15% in sexual abuse cases.
Budget cuts, increases in child protection referrals and a lack of social workers were given as the main reasons for the rise in child protection thresholds.
Children involved in domestic violence cases were said to be missing out on support. One social worker said a four-year-old child was at significant risk of physical and emotional abuse due to witnessing ongoing domestic violence. “There was pressure not to recommend a child protection plan in my initial child protection conference report and to vote against a child protection plan at the conference,” they said.
Almost two-thirds of those who had experienced pressure to reclassify cases described themselves as scared about the risks they carried in taking the decision; 84% of them said reclassifications were typically against children’s best interests.
Special report on Community Care’s child protection threshold survey
In addition, more than 40% reported having additional pressure placed on them to return children in care back to their birth families, with most of them feeling this was done only to save money and reduce the number of children in care.
Sixty per cent said children on care orders were being removed from child protection plans, even when they remained at risk.
One respondent gave an example of a child with an unexplained injury who was removed from a protection plan following the granting of an interim care order, “even though the child remained living with parents, who were thought to have been responsible for the injury”.
Another said the local safeguarding children board had instructed that any child accommodated in care would be ineligible for a child protection plan “because they do not want to run a dual process”.
Many claimed teenagers were falling off the child protection agenda. One wrote: “Child protection plans seem to be for the younger children.”
Another social worker said the most pressure to return or keep children with birth families came when children were over the age of 15: “I’ve often heard the argument ‘well they’ve managed to survive this long’.”
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