Social workers ‘powerless’ to intervene in suspected neglect cases

Half of social workers feel powerless to intervene in suspected cases of child neglect, according to latest research.

The Action for Children survey of the public, police and professionals working across health, social care and education found widespread concern that the thresholds for intervention were being set too high.

Of those social workers polled, 42 per cent felt thresholds where too high. In addition, 52 per cent said they struggle to intervene even when thresholds are met because of a lack of resources. More than 4,000 people took part in the survey.

The situation has got worse since 2009 when a third of social workers felt powerless to intervene. During this latest survey 51 per cent of social workers and 36 per cent of police officers said they felt powerless to intervene in neglect cases.

Action for Children chief executive Clare Tickell said: “All our findings point to the stark reality that neglected children and their parents are being identified, but neither the professionals nor the public feel empowered to help or intervene, particularly at the early stages.”

Action for Children is calling for government support to help councils, police and health trusts collect data about the scale of child neglect and effectiveness of their response.

Parents and the public need to be encouraged by government to report concerns about neglect. Support services for families at risk of neglect need to be more widely available, the charity said.

Professor Corinne May-Chahal, co-chair of The College of Social Work, called for intervention thresholds to be lowered.

She said: “The point at which social workers can intervene in cases of neglect is too high. This high threshold allows the challenges families face to deteriorate to the point where they need urgent help.”

Meanwhile, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is preparing a submission to the parliamentary education select committee on the child protection system.

Ruth Cartwright, BASW England manager, said: “Our members report that social workers are under resourced and have limited time to build relationships with parents and children, which hinders any assessment and often children are left far longer than they should be.”