Effective joint working key to enhancing out-of-date child neglect laws

 kennedyCareKnowledge editor Jim Kennedy considers the key points from the recent Action for Children review into child neglect:

The research for the review repeats exercises carried out over the past few years which included a national sample survey of local authorities, the use of multi-agency focus groups, polling of both the public and professionals, collation of UK-wide statistics and analysis of relevant policy developments.

The review report points to the fact that neglect remains the most common initial reason for children being placed on a child protection register or made subject to a child protection plan.

This is true – and broadly consistent – across the UK, although the proportion is highest in Wales (at 49%) and lowest in Scotland (at 42%). But, of course, caution should be exercised in drawing any comparative conclusions, given the differences in underlying child care systems.

In any event, the report contends that these figures give only a limited insight into the true level of neglect. Polling of professionals, for example, threw up figures suggesting that over 90% believed they had come across children who were being neglected; and that one in eight were coming across children subject to weekly or more frequent instances of neglect.

And the report points to what it describes as continuing gaps in the collation and collection of information on cases of neglect.

Polling of professionals also revealed a belief that levels of neglect are increasing, with the main reason for this, cited by staff in schools, being a deterioration in parenting skills. Another key reason more broadly identified, was the increase in levels of poverty. The significance of this factor to cases of neglect had risen, amongst all professionals, from 44% in 2009 to 66% in 2012.

The report suggests that there has been some increase in the willingness of the public to report neglect, and although social services remain the most likely place for them to take their concerns, more people are now prepared to discuss issues with other professionals such as nurses and doctors. Members of the public also comment on the need for more and better information on this subject.

The report found evidence of professional concern that help was not being provided early enough when difficulties have been identified – and that the role of universal services is not fully exploited. There are also growing concerns about the impact of public sector cuts.

Effective joint working remains a key theme highlighted in the report – and, here, it points to new developments, including the establishment of Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASH) that are attempting to tackle this agenda.

Based on this overall analysis, the Action for Children Review makes a series of (robustly worded) recommendations centred on the need for:

• Government to honour its commitment to increase early intervention services with clear statutory duties for early help included in the new Working Together statutory guidance
• Government to revise the inspection framework so that no local authority can receive an excellent inspection rating unless it demonstrates sufficient and effective early help services
• Government to commission Ofsted to conduct a thematic review on child neglect focused on early intervention
• Government to introduce a web-portal for the public to seek help for children they are worried about

Now, much that is in this Review will be familiar to CareKnowledge readers and, at that level, I guess all this blog will have done is confirm that the Review shares the concerns of many in the field. But the continued focus on neglect seems an essential one, given its prevalence, its recognised long term effects and its ability to slip under the child protection ‘radar’.

A key concern, though, from someone with an eye to developments across the UK, is that although its research is UK-wide, the report appears to reserve its recommendations for the English Government. The policies it highlights seem to me to be the responsibility of the DFE in England, rather than those of the UK Government.

That may be a misreading based on the relatively short time I’ve had to look at the report – or may be explained, in some way that I’ve missed – but otherwise, a pity…

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