No increase in child abuse detection since Children Act despite 300% referral rise

Research finds assessments are now longer and more expensive than they were when the Children Act 1989 came into force

Referrals to children’s social care have increased by more than 300% since the introduction of the Children Act 1989, yet there has been no increase in the detection of child abuse, research has found.

The evidence briefing, written by Lauren Devine and Stephen Parker and published by the Economic and Social Research Council, found that, despite a more than three-fold increase in referrals and assessments by children’s social care, professionals still don’t realise a referral can have a negative effect.

Adverse consequences

“The trend towards increased assessments for early intervention needs to be balanced against the potentially adverse consequences,” the report stated.

“Few organisations working with  children have  adequate understanding of how referral and assessment affect families, and little support exists,” it continued.

A cross examination of referral and assessment data in England over the last 22 years has shown the length and cost of assessments has increased, while there is no corresponding increase in the detection of child abuse.

“The data shows that the vast majority of families simply need support services – and many families do not even reach the threshold,” the report stated.

Early intervention

The report called for early intervention strategies to be made more widely available, with more funding needed to, “expand universal, non-assessed social services, to reduce the need for assessment in low level support cases”.

This could be paid for by the subsequent reduction of referral and assessment costs, the report recommended, while the assessment of need must be simplified, consensual and less intrusive unless there are clear grounds for suspecting abuse.

Access to legal help should also be made available at all stages of child abuse investigations, and family support and advocacy extended across the community, the report recommended.

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