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Rise in neglect reports to NSPCC – impact of the recession cannot be ignored

Commenting on new figures released by the NSPCC showing that reports of neglect to its helpline have doubled over the last two years to reach record levels, Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, said:

“It is surely no coincidence that as the recession bites ever harder, reports of child neglect are increasing. The increase in the number of families living in poverty needs to be tackled by the government; social workers are concerned about the number of children experiencing neglect and not always getting support early enough.

“We are saddened that the government has chosen to ignore Professor Eileen Munro’s call to create a statutory early intervention duty on local authorities, as we agree with her view that preventative services do more to reduce abuse and neglect than reactive services.

“The impact of neglect for children is severe and is likely to have long term consequences that affect all aspects of their lives. Early intervention with these children is vitally important, yet we are seeing cuts to services, social work teams losing staff and not being replaced, closure of children’s centres and other early intervention services. Many local authorities also have high eligibility criteria before families can access help.

“In neglect cases, unlike cases of physical harm, it can be very difficult to gather evidence which is then deemed appropriate by the court before a child can be removed from their family if necessary.

“As social workers, we have always known that children who are neglected and whose basic needs are not met are likely to be seriously disadvantaged. This can be seen in delays in growth and physical development and their social development in social interactions, play and learning. Without support, they can struggle to parent their own children, repeating behaviour learned from their childhood.

“The consequences of delay or non-intervention for these children can be a lifetime of reduced capacity for achievement and happiness. By the time the full impact of their abusive experience is evident, many of the people making decisions about these children’s lives will have long gone.

“The difficulties of assessing neglected children are well documented. They may be silent, have no expectations that their needs will be met and, despite their suffering remain loyal to their parents. Neglect often leads to them to having no sense of self other than a negative one.

“Social workers need time to establish relationships that allow them to work with families in order to assess their situation effectively.

“The coordination of various different services is also crucial from ante natal care through to school – all professionals who work with children should work together both in a supportive and assessment role.

“We are concerned that the situation will get worse as cuts continue and resources are withdrawn, and greater emphasis is given to evidence of visible, physical harm of a child, rather than more subtle signs of neglect.”