Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Neglected children must be better protected

More must be done to identify and respond effectively to neglect at the earliest stages so that the most vulnerable children in our society do not remain too long in families where they come to harm, a new report from Ofsted says today.

The inspectorate is calling for all local authorities and local safeguarding children boards to improve their understanding of the extent of neglect in their local area and to develop shared strategies to prioritise action. The report also recommends that social work training is improved to increase professional understanding of the impact of neglect on children’s lives.

Today’s report, 'In the child’s time: Professional responses to neglect' draws on evidence from local authorities, their statutory partners and the views of parents and carers.

Whilst in some areas professionals are working well together to protect and support children who experience neglect, the report finds that overall the quality of professional practice is too variable.

The inspection found inconsistent approaches to assessing neglect, with children being left for too long in harmful situations in nearly half of the long term cases examined. Failures to take repeat incidents and family histories into account, and prioritising the needs of vulnerable adults over children were central to poor practice. In these cases, management oversight of risk and decisions was not good enough. 

Debbie Jones, Ofsted Director for Social Care says: 

'It is widely accepted that neglect can have a devastating impact on the life chances of children and young people, and as recent high profile cases have shown, at its very worst, can be fatal.

'Some children live with serious and complicated difficulties in their families, and we need to examine what we can and should be doing to stop neglect far earlier in their lives.

'Absolutely vital to this is ensuring all social care practitioners are able to recognise the impact that neglect has on children, as well as being properly supported by skilled and experienced managers who are able to advise on help and intervention before the damage becomes irreparable.'

Many of the social care professionals interviewed were not offered in-depth training in recognising the signs of neglect, or given ready access to best practice. Although the report highlights examples of positive work to tackle the problem, it finds that innovation and case studies of timely, effective responses are not being shared widely across the profession.

The report also exposes a lack of understanding from LCSBs about the extent of neglect in their area, with some having no clear picture of the number of children in families where neglect may be a risk factor, or processes in place to monitor whether interventions for neglect were working.

In some cases, professionals found it difficult to engage parents in child protection work - lack of or feigned compliance with child protection plans caused significant delays in over a third of the long term cases examined.

Some professionals also lacked the confidence to challenge both parents and other practitioners where child protection plans were not progressing or meeting children’s needs.

Debbie Jones concludes:

'Social care professionals have a tough job to do. The pressure of increased workloads and the scrutiny on child protection means that dealing with this challenging area effectively can be extremely difficult.

'Despite this, it is clear that some children are not getting the help they need. LCSBs and local authorities must work to develop their understanding of neglect and to make sure that they are tackling this robustly and without compromise.'

Notes to editors

  1. In 2013, Charity Action for Children called on the Government to commission Ofsted to undertake a thematic review of child neglect and early help.
  2. The thematic inspection was carried out across 11 Local Authorities, and draws on evidence from 124 cases and from the views of parents, carers and professionals from the local authority and partner agencies.
  3. Debbie Jones will be available for pre-recorded interviews on Tuesday 25th March between 1600 – 1830, and for live interviews between 0700 – 0800 on Wednesday 26th March. Please contact the press office to arrange.
  4. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 03000 130415 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am - 6.00pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359
  5. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection. 

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