More than one-third of social workers and police officers feel “powerless” to intervene in cases of suspected child neglect, according to research by Action for Children.
The study, based on a survey of 490 social workers and police officers, found 16% of respondents had seen a rise in cases of suspected neglect over the past year, but 37% felt powerless to intervene because cases did not meet social care thresholds.
Half said earlier intervention would ensure cases of suspected child neglect were dealt with effectively, while 57% said spending more time with families and less on paperwork would help.
Media attention, government guidelines and pressure from employers had led 41% to feel under increased pressure to intervene, compared with five years ago.
Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of Action for Children, said: “It’s a real concern that frontline professionals are telling us that not only that they are seeing more cases of neglect, but feel they can’t intervene as soon as possible.
“We rely on frontline professionals to identify cases of neglect and work with others to give families the help they need – but only when these barriers are removed can they protect the most vulnerable and neglected young people and children.”
Tickell urged the new coalition government to “listen to what is being said and recognise the importance of early intervention services in breaking cycles of neglect, and in reaping long-term economic benefits”. She said cutting these services would have “devastating consequences” for society’s most vulnerable families and the public purse.
John Dixon and Rosalind Turner, joint chairs of the ADCS-Adass policy committee, said in a statement: “It takes a strong multi-agency approach to identify and tackle neglect at an early stage. This includes all professionals who might come into contact with the children suffering from neglect, health staff, social workers helping adults in the family with mental health or addiction issues, and universal children’s services, such as schools and children’s centres.
“It is important that those working on the frontline have up-to-date skills and training to ensure that they know what action to take when they suspect neglect. This includes taking action that is proportional to the needs of the child and family. The 10-year reform programme of social work will assist in this, but all professionals working with children need support in this area.”