Social workers feel powerless to intervene in cases of child neglect, finds survey

Action for Children found social workers feel less empowered to help children suffering neglect than police, doctors and headteachers

Children’s social workers often feel powerless to intervene in cases of child neglect, research by Action for Children has found.

The charity surveyed 1,101 professionals who work with children, 162 of whom were social workers, about their experiences of working with child neglect – the most frequent reason for a child protection referral.

The survey found 41% of social workers said they feel unable to help children suffering neglect. Almost a third said they lacked the time and resources to deal with neglect, while a similar percentage (28%) said other professionals did not take their concerns seriously.

Rising thresholds for intervention

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, said rising thresholds for intervention could be causing problems for social workers.

“Social workers go into the job wanting to help children and we share their concerns that a basic lack of preventative services is leaving too many children at risk,” said Mansuri.


The percentage of social workers who felt powerless to intervene was the highest of all the professionals surveyed. Just under a third (30%) of police officers reported feeling powerless, while just under a quarter of doctors and more than a third of headteachers felt the same.

Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, called for more investment in services, warning that professionals feeling powerless combines with limited resources and increasing caseloads to create a “perfect storm”. This puts children in danger, he said.

He added: “Social workers want to help children in need, but relying on crisis response alone is unsustainable.”


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2 Responses to Social workers feel powerless to intervene in cases of child neglect, finds survey

  1. Ruth Cartwright March 11, 2015 at 5:00 pm #

    Sometimes neglect is engendered by poverty and not by any failing of the parents or carers of the children. Social workers do not want to be seen as blaming parents for what is usually not their fault and employers are reluctant to name the State through Benefit cuts as an abuser of children. I think social workers should make sure they record when families are short of essentials, food, decent housing, access to education, because of Benefit cuts, sanctions, Bedroom Tax, etc and pass that up the line.

  2. Philip Measures March 16, 2015 at 9:31 am #

    Ruth Cartwright also makes the point that I have been trying to make throughout all my years as a social worker and that is that Organisations should also record on their databases ‘Unmet Need’ – it is only by identifying it that any real action will ensue.

    It is really quite astounding to realise the information that is not recorded and retrievable – one perhaps needs to ask why we record certain things and not others. Perhaps not knowing absolves the consciences of those who ought to be taking action.