The NSPCC is calling on all parliamentary candidates to press for legislation that would ensure social workers saw at-risk children alone on home visits.
The campaign, called “I stand for children”, wants candidates to agree to introduce the law after this year’s general election.
Ofsted has found that, when a child is killed or seriously injured, the most significant failure was the omission by professionals to see or speak to the child, instead taking the word of parents.
Diana Sutton, head of public affairs and campaigns for the NSPCC, said: “A change in the law would emphasise to everyone that the child must be seen and heard when concerns are raised. This would help professionals deal with unco-operative, manipulative or hostile parents who try to hide evidence of child abuse or neglect.”
However, Unison said such a law would be a “blunt instrument”.
Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social workers, said professionals could already apply to the police or courts to see a child on their own if a parent refused permission.
“This law would be a blunt instrument and may even damage what may already be fragile relationships between social workers and parents,” Pile said.
“Social workers tell me that it is rare to be denied access and that the key to protecting a child is building up trust and confidence within the family.
“Being too prescriptive, by adding a legal requirement to see a child on their own, could cut across more effective alternatives, such as asking the child’s teacher to talk to them privately. In addition, you may have parents coaching their child on what to say and threatening them if they say the ‘wrong thing’.”
“For social workers to do their jobs more effectively, they need smaller caseloads, for vacancies to be filled, less time spent on filling in forms and more time face-to-face with their clients.”
As part of its general election policy drive, the NSPCC is also calling for child protection services to be immune from spending cuts, better protection for children living with domestic violence, more therapeutic services for child victims of abuse and continued government funding for helplines.