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Royal Commission needed over ‘abhorrent’ child protection failures, says new report

Vulnerable children and young people are being failed by State services, claims CSJ

Many child protection and mental health services are in crisis and a large number of children and young people are slipping through the net, a new report from the Centre for Social Justice states.

Enough is Enough calls for a Royal Commission to be established to advise on the wholesale redesign of England's social care and mental health services.

The CSJ says that it has uncovered alarming reports of many vulnerable children and young people not receiving the support they need. The report says the point at which many children and young people qualify for help is often too high, and there is a group of "lone children" who are not being taken care of by their parents or State services. The Centre claims that an absence of up-to-date data means the full extent of child protection and mental health problems is unclear.

The report cites examples of abuse and neglect of children and young people who were not receiving adequate statutory help. One teenage girl, a victim of physical and emotional abuse, lived for periods with her father who introduced her to men who sexually abused her. A six-year-old boy was left living with his mother who was addicted to crack-cocaine. He suffered severe neglect and was later discovered with rotting teeth and surviving off food and shelter provided by a neighbour.

The study, which included an in-depth analysis of 20 cases from the London-based charity Kids Company, says a lack of State services often leads to charities picking up the pieces. It also describes multiple failures by some local authorities to assess and provide help. Witnesses said some social work teams remain trapped in a process-driven culture with "dangerously high" caseloads.

The report also claims that there are major failings by some services to support children and young people with mental health problems. There is a high rate of mental health disorder among British children, says the report. Based on data gathered a decade ago, one in 10 children aged between five and 16 has a diagnosable mental illness. These include: 

However, the CSJ believes the numbers are now higher. Enough is Enough says there is an absence of comprehensive and up-to-date data available on the extent of mental health problems in children and young people in England.

Responding to the report, Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England, said:

"The Centre for Social Justice's report recounts troubling examples of children and young people continuing to be failed by the child protection and mental health systems. Many are similar stories to those which we see and have reported on in different parts of the country through our own work, or which we hear about from serious case reviews, or the work of others. The voices and experiences of these children are often not heard so their needs are not identified nor met.

"Even putting a single child's life at risk is one too many. I do not condone doing nothing. However, I am also anxious not to fall into the trap of a wholesale write off of the entire child protection and mental health systems because they fail some, even where that number is a substantial minority. We must not lose sight of the fact that the systems and services protect very many thousands of children each day. In many places and for many children they work well. The challenge therefore, is for all agencies to learn from those examples.

"Our experience is that where problems occur, they are usually because of a combination of problems with leadership, organisational culture, staff training and resources. We do not believe that simply adjusting the legal framework will prevent failures with the system. That is why we believe that any review of the system, were it to go ahead, should focus on what currently works to keep our children safe from harm and abuse and how this should be replicated across the country, rather than a whole system redesign. We also believe this solution must partly lie in early intervention."

The report is here.