Neglect in older children can go ‘unseen’, professionals warned

Ofsted found some professionals "lacked the skills and training" required when working with older children, and said practitioners should be trained in trauma

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Photo: Tuomas Marttila/REX

Professionals can sometimes lack the skills and training to work effectively with older children, a report has said.

The report by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and the police and probation inspectorates, rounded up findings from targeted inspections on multi-agency responses to neglect in older children, and warned that neglect of older children can go “unseen” and this group “may also be skilled at hiding the impact of neglect”.

It said the presenting factors of long-term neglect for older children “may not be recognised as being the result of neglect”.

“We observed that professionals and parents can sometimes view the presenting issues older children face as the problem: this was often an unconscious assumption.

“When a child’s presenting issues become the sole problem, professionals do not always consider their behaviour in the context of the impact of neglect on the child and they can fail to take action with parents regarding any ongoing neglect,” the report said.

Impact of neglect

The signs of neglect for older children can often fall under other categories of risk as older children choose to spend time out of the home, the report said, with examples include going missing, offending behaviour and exploitation.

It said practitioners needed to help parents understand the impact neglect was having on children, and it praised the impact of trauma training for people on the frontline, saying the impact was clear to see.

“These professionals better understood the need to prioritise therapeutic work and the need to address the impact of neglect at the earliest opportunity,” the report said.

It also advised professionals to respect the views of older children.

“For older children who have been neglected and had little choice about decisions in their lives, giving them agency can be significant and effective in beginning to build trust and [an] effective working relationship,” Ofsted advised.

Adults’ services

Parents must be helped to develop the skills to parent their older children, the report said, adding that a key finding of the study was the variable effectiveness in adult services of identifying parents who may neglect their children.

“Too often, adult mental health and substance misuse services are not focused enough on thinking about the whole family and the impact of adult behaviours on children, including the risk of neglect to older children,” the report said.

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s chief inspector for social care, told Community Care agencies needed to be “focused” on adolescents.

“It’s about us coming together around that very best practice for complex children, it’s also saying we need to make sure we are both challenging and supporting parents to make those changes,” Stanley said.

She added: “Adults’ services need to be a part of that equation, we need to support them in thinking family, thinking older child, and working together to help make the change for both the adults and the children.”

There has been a “much bigger focus” on the neglect of younger children, Stanley said, but  insisted services had become more sophisticated.

“I would hope that colleagues take our report into their local safeguarding arrangements and reflect how well they are doing. To think about the training and support in a multi-agency environment for their staff, so everyone is working to the highest level of competency and sharing their knowledge.”

About the inspection programme

The inspection programme began in May 2017 and covered six areas:  Stockton-on-Tees, Cheshire West and Chester, Haringey, Bristol, Peterborough and Wokingham. It defined older children as those aged seven to 15.

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