Child neglect 'going unreported'

25 February 2009 / BBC News

A quarter of adults in the UK have worried that a child they know may be neglected, but over a third did not act on their concerns, a poll suggests.

The charity Action for Children said it commissioned the survey of 1,038 people to show the difficulty of identifying and preventing the neglect of children.

Neglect can include children being unloved, underfed or badly clothed.

The charity said it is the most common abuse, accounting for 45% of those on England's child protection plans.

Long-term problems

An Action for Children spokeswoman said neglect can be harder to recognise, and has not been as high profile as other forms of child abuse, even though it is one of the most common ways in which children are mistreated.

She said this is because neglect is often a symptom of other long-term and complex problems in a family rather than an easily recognisable one-off event.

As a result, she said, it can be hard for people around the family to know the right time to do something and feel comfortable and supported in acting on their instincts.

The results of the ICM survey of more than 1,000 adults and parents in the UK included:


  • 16% of adults said they did not tell anyone because they were frightened of repercussions
  • 15% said they did not tell anyone because it was not any of their business
  • 11% would tell a neighbour, relative or friend first rather than social services or the Police
  • 15% said that a lack of proof prevented them from doing anything
  • 23% said they did not think they had enough information about who to ask for help

The charity reported that in 2008 in England alone neglect was the reason why 45% of children were on the child protection register, compared to 15% for physical abuse, 7% for sexual abuse and 25% for emotional abuse.

The Action for Children spokeswoman told the BBC: "Our advice would always be if they have a serious concern, go direct to police or children's services.

"With neglect, it's never a one-off event, it's always a series."

Warning signs

"We would always say if there is enough concern and there is enough proof, they should probably step in and they are well within their rights to."

She said warning signs might include children coming into school who are hungry or with dirty clothes, or if parents are rarely seen at parents' evenings and other points of contact.

She said the charity was now asking the government to raise awareness of what constitutes neglect so people know it when they see it.

A Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF) spokesman said keeping children safe was their "top priority".

He told the BBC: "We have put in place a much stronger framework for tackling child abuse and neglect so that children and young people are at the centre of everything we do, and everything local services do.

"Following the recent Baby P case, Children's Secretary Ed Balls has asked Lord Laming to produce a progress report on how child protection arrangements are being implemented systematically around the country and to identify any barriers to that."

The spokesman added that child safety was "everyone's responsibility" and that although government and local agencies have an important role, they "cannot protect children alone".

He said: "If anyone has concerns about a child's welfare they should report their concerns to their local authority children's services... If anyone thinks a child is in immediate danger they should call 999."


In the name of "sweeping reform"

Back in June, of 2000, the BBC news network featured a story about the abuse and neglect that was taking place in certain children's homes:

The government has agreed to sweeping changes to services for children in care.
Ministers have accepted each of the 72 recommendations made in the Waterhouse report into child abuse.
The report, which was published in February, investigated 650 allegations of child abuse in 40 council care homes in North Wales over a 20-year period, between 1976 and 1996.
It followed an 18-month inquiry, which was headed by Sir Ronald Waterhouse QC.
The report named and criticised almost 200 people for either abusing children or for failing to sufficiently protect children in their care.
It said systematic abuse, a climate of violence and a culture of secrecy existed in dozens of children's homes over two decades.
It made 72 recommendations calling for sweeping changes to the way local councils, social services and police deal with children in care.
One of these recommendations included the appointment of an independent children's commissioner in Wales to protect the interests of all children.
The National Assembly for Wales has already agreed to establish the post but ministers have come under fire for failing to introduce a similar office in England.
Speaking to the BBC, junior health minister John Hutton said the report must be the "catalyst for change" in the care of children.
"We are going to be accepting, in general, all of the recommendations in Sir Ronald's report which disclose an absolute dreadful state of affairs which lasted for many, many years."
He added: "We will be establishing a new children's rights director for England who will have broadly very similar powers and will for the first time be able to take a national overview of all the arrangements that relate to vulnerable children who are receiving services from local authorities."
But charities have dismissed the claim and have called for a commissioner and not a director to be appointed to protect the 55,000 children in care in England.
NSPCC child protection director Neil Hunt said: "If something good is to come out of the terrible suffering highlight by the Waterhouse Report, it must be that the next generation of children in care get their voices heard.
"Individually, they need a statutory right to access independent advocates who can help them speak out and, collectively, they need a powerful children's commissioner to speak up for them and all children."
Childline chief executive Valerie Howarth added: "Children must be able to speak to people they trust and who have the authority to take their issues forward.
"For too long they have not been listened to, often with dreadful consequences."    [From:  "Changes for children in care", 29 June 2000, ]

So whilst the government now urges "concerned neighbors" to recognize and report signs of neglect, who is protecting all these new cases/children once they are put into care?  Government approved charities and social services? [See:  "Take more children into care, says Barnardo's chief Martin Nary" and "Charities are ready to help swamped DOCS" .]

If you ask me, very few people are reading about the long and sordid history of abuse and neglect experienced by children put in "homes" or institutions.   Very few are aware of the politics behind private practice, job-protection, cloaks of secrecy, and "turning a deaf ear and blind eye" to malpractice AND how this all affects children placed in-care.  And even fewer are doing anything that radically improves the type of care and attention parents and children are given by and through "family services".

(Seems a bit one-sided and unfair, doesn't it?)

While some may like to think the UK is not at all like the USA, I say we are more alike than different when it comes to issues related to CPS, foster care, and adoption.

Dare we think one day our governments will right the wrongs abuse and neglect bring an entire society?  OR are we doomed to continue the circle of fate that says, "the more things change, the more they will stay the same"?

Pound Pup Legacy