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Social workers feel 'powerless' to intervene in child neglect cases, says Action for Children

New survey paints ‘a worrying picture of neglected children’ trapped in the child protection system

Over half (51%) of social workers, and a third of police officers (36%) report feeling 'powerless' to intervene in suspected cases of child neglect, according to a report by children's charity, Action for Children.

In Child neglect in 2011: An annual review, by Action for Children in partnership with the University of Stirling, the charity has found, what is says is, a worrying picture of neglected children getting trapped in, rather than caught by, the safety net in place to protect them, as teachers, health workers and nursery staff are increasingly aware of child neglect, yet unsure as to what to do.

The polls were conducted as part of a comprehensive review into child neglect, the first of a new annual series, by the University of Stirling, for Action for Children. Over 4000 people, including the general public, a range of professionals, and 47 local authorities, took part in the research through polling and focus groups.

Social workers questioned felt that the point at which they could intervene in cases of child neglect was too high (42%) and for those children who did meet the level at which they could intervene, many cited a lack of resources (52%) or support services to refer families to (43%) as barriers to acting. The percentage of social workers who say they feel powerless to intervene in cases of child neglect has gone up from a third since 2009. It comes as over half (52%) of those surveyed said they have been worried about the welfare or safety of a child they know or who is living in their area.

Further findings from Action for Children's Review of Child Neglect 2011, include:
81% of professionals in universal services (primary school teachers, pre-school and nursery staff and health professionals) that come into contact with children have suspected children of being neglected (compared with 78% in 2009).

These professionals also stated that the most helpful improvement in tackling child neglect would be if they were able to report less serious suspicions before they became worse (55% of primary school staff, 46% of pre-school and nursery staff and 41% of health professionals).

80% of social workers think that cuts to services will make it more difficult to intervene in cases of child neglect.

Over a third (37%) of the general public said they would like more information about who to contact if they have a concern about a child who is being neglected. This has gone up from 23% in 2009.

Action for Children will be monitoring the scale and impact of UK child neglect and society's response to the issue on an ongoing basis, reporting back annually on progress made and making key recommendations to government.