Older children at risk of ‘slipping through cracks’ with neglect often going unnoticed

Neglect in older children is often going unnoticed, leaving youngsters at risk of slipping through the cracks, a report warns.

It suggests that agencies can see neglected older youngsters as the problem, rather than looking at what may be causing their behaviour.

The joint report, published by a group of public watchdogs, says that action is needed to ensure these young people get the support they need.

It warns: “The signs of neglect of older children may be more difficult to identify than signs of neglect in younger children, and older children may present with different risks.”

The report also says: “What older children require from their parents is also different to what younger children need. Older children face risks outside of the home in ways that younger children do not.

“Parents may not always be equipped to help their older children deal with increased risks outside the home. Alternatively, because their parents are neglecting them at home, older children may spend more time away from the home, which increases their risk of exposure to child sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, gang-related activity or violence.

“These, then, are the problems that professionals first see when they encounter a neglected child and these may well be the issues they respond to.”

It also warns: “Children are not the problem. Older children still need parental care and support. Professionals are not always doing the work to tackle neglectful parenting.”

The report is based on inspections of services for children in six areas – including children’s services, police, education, health, probation services and youth offending services.

It calls for agencies to work together to identify and prevent neglect, and better training for professionals to help them identify signs of neglect in older children.

The report also says that older children’s behaviour should be considered in the context of any trauma they have experienced.

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s national director for social care, said: “Older children are still children, and they need our love and care. They face risks outside the home in a way younger children do not, and need parents to provide clear boundaries and support on their journey to adulthood.

“Some older children we saw had been neglected by their parents over many years. These children are incredibly vulnerable. They can seem ‘resilient’ and appear to be making ‘lifestyle choices’, when they are in fact finding unsafe ways of coping, like getting involved in gangs or misusing drugs and alcohol.

“Behavioural issues must, of course, be dealt with. But unless local agencies consider the role of neglectful parenting, and take action to address it, as well as supporting children in a way that recognises the impact of their traumatic childhood, then their chances of a successful future will continue to be low.”

A Government spokesman said: “Neglect of any child or young person is wrong, and we are committed to ensuring that all vulnerable individuals – no matter their age – receive the care and support that they need.

“That is why we are reforming how agencies work together at a local level in safeguarding against abuse and neglect. We have strengthened our ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ guidance which, for the first time, makes clear the expectations on all agencies to protect young people from exploitation.”

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