Referrals to children’s services in England reached their highest ever level last year, a report by the NSPCC has found.
The report, How safe are our children?, revealed that 570,800 children were referred to social services in England in 2013-14, the highest since data was first collected in 2010. Prior to this, referrals had been falling slowly for three years.
The number of children in the child protection system has also risen by 80% since 2002, the report said. It urged professionals not to lose sight of neglect in the face of other issues dominating the media, such as sexual exploitation.
Neglect is still the most common reason for children to be in the child protection system, the report revealed.
Published on the same day that police figures showed a sharp rise in sexual offences against children, the charity called for the protection of children to be made the government’s top priority.
Peter Wanless, the charity’s chief executive, said: “From the leap in young people being referred to social services, to the number of sexual offences being recorded against children, it is clear that society and government needs to ‘up the ante’ and ensure tackling child abuse is a top priority.”
The charity called for a focus on early intervention services, arguing that the current economic climate makes it a, “realistic and smart choice”, because of its cost saving potential down the line.
Annie Hudson, chief executive of The College of Social Work, supported this call: “Services need to reach out to families to provide timely help and support. We also know this type of intervention can be cost-effective, reducing the need for more expensive services further down the line.”
But she added: “Unfortunately, many social workers across the country are reporting ever higher and more complex caseloads. This means that their capacity to build quality relationships with children and families is being compromised.
“Further cuts to children’s services will only risk making this situation worse. We need instead to see real investment in social work, because this means investing in safe and healthy communities.”
Anne Longfield, children’s commissioner for England, said the report paints an, “extremely troubling picture of child abuse and neglect in England today”.
“Behind the statistics thousands of individual children are experiencing a childhood blighted through abuse and neglect. Protecting our children must be a national priority for every one of us,” she said.