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Local agencies are failing to spot the signs of neglect in older children, finds report

Growing up neglected: a multi-agency response to older children

The neglect of older children sometimes goes 'unseen', and needs greater understanding and a more co-ordinated approach from local agencies, according to a newly published report.

The joint report - Growing up neglected: a multi-agency response to older children - from inspectorates Ofsted, HMI Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and HMI Probation, finds that older neglected children are not always receiving the support and protection they need.

Too often, says the report, local agencies are failing to spot the signs of neglect in older children. While neglect of young children is usually better identified, because the signs are more obvious, older children suffering the same abuse are slipping through the cracks.

The new report says that older neglected children often experience abuse outside the home as well as within it. Children escaping neglectful homes are more likely to go missing, to be vulnerable to exploitation, and at risk of being drawn into criminal activity. This makes it hard for professionals to meet their multiple, complex needs.

In some cases, local agencies see older children to be the 'problem'. The report shows that front line services work together to tackle issues like youth violence and gang involvement, but often there is little consideration of the underlying causes that contribute to this behaviour, such as neglectful parenting.

The inspectorates saw good practice in some areas, where agencies considered all risks to children, including neglect. In these areas, the child and their family are supported, and parents challenged where appropriate. Professionals understand the impact of neglect on the child, including how neglectful parenting increases vulnerability to abuse outside of the home. However, this was not the case everywhere.

In one relatively affluent area visited for the report, GPs recognise that neglect can happen even in wealthy families. They are alert to different forms of neglect, including emotional neglect, and take steps to address them. For example, when children present with eating disorders or mental health problems, the GP will look beyond the immediate issues to ask questions about life at home, and relationships with parents.

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted's National Director for Social Care, said:

"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."

The report also highlights the vital role adult services, including probation and adult health services, have to play in recognising neglectful parenting. But it finds that too often, mental health and substance misuse services do not think about the whole family and the impact of adults' behaviour on children. Information on adults who have limited parenting capacity due to mental health or substance misuse is not always shared with partner agencies.

The report calls for:

The findings are the result of inspections of services for children in six local authority areas. This includes children's services departments, police, youth offending services, education, health, and probation services.

The inspections looked at how well local agencies are working together to help and protect older children who are neglected or at risk of neglect. Inspectors spoke to professionals as well as children and parents, and looked at a range of cases from children aged seven to 15 years old.

For the report, click here.