Half of social workers feel ‘powerless’ to prevent child neglect

Charity says research suggests children at risk of neglect because social workers feel ‘powerless’ to intervene

More than half of social workers feel “powerless” to intervene in suspected cases of child neglect, according to an annual review into child neglect.

The key finding was from research by the children’s charity Action for Children in partnership with the University of Stirling, which was based on interviews with more than 4,000 people including social care professionals, local authorities and the public.

The findings showed that 51% of social workers felt unable to intervene to protect children from neglect, up from a third in similar research conducted in 2009.

It also found that 42% believed the point at which they could step in in cases of neglect was too high; 52% believed they lacked the resources to prevent child neglect, and 43% felt there was a lack of services to refer families on to.

Action for Children said its findings painted a worrying picture of neglected children in the UK and estimated that up to 10% of all children in the UK have experienced neglect. It called on the government to:

• Help local areas improve data collection to ascertain the scale of neglect and the effectiveness of services.

• Co-ordinate local services to encourage parents and the public to act early on concerns of neglect.

• Increase children and families’ access to effective early support services.

Professor Corinne May-Chahal, co-chair of the College of Social Work and professor of applied science at Lancaster University, said the high threshold which social workers could intervene in cases of neglect was preventing children from getting the help they need.

“Even when a child has been identified as being neglected, social workers struggle to get them the support they need due to a lack of time or resources,” she said. “The system, in its current state, falls short in providing the safety and security neglected children need.”

She added: “It is important that social workers are given a stronger role in early intervention and that services are appropriately organised to achieve this aim.”

Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of Action for Children, said its findings showed that neglected children and their parents were being identified, but neither the professionals nor the public felt empowered to help or intervene, particularly at the early stages.

She added: “When it comes to child neglect the reality is, we are only tackling the tip of the iceberg, and there are many thousands out there in desperate need. We are currently missing critical opportunities to help, and putting valued professionals in an impossible position.”