Action for Children’s analysis of child referrals to social services by teachers, police or health professionals over two years suggests more than 36,000 children were referred a number of times before action was take on issues such as abuse and neglect or family dysfunction.
The analysis, ‘Revolving Door - Part 2’, is based on scaled-up figures from the Department for Education’s (DfE) Children in Need database for 2013/14 and 2014/15.
It also suggests that more than 13,500 children who were referred in both years did not receive any statutory support.
Action for Children says this is happening within the context of reduced central Government funding for local authorities and increasing demand.
It warns that councils crippled by Government cuts can’t provide early support which tackles the ‘root causes’ of family problems and prevents children from coming to harm.
The charity highlights one case of a young boy living in filthy conditions on a diet of crisps and sausage rolls after opportunities to offer early help were missed.
An Action for Children family support worker explained, ‘Last year, a mum with learning difficulties and her six-year-old son were referred to us by his school for intensive family support.
‘Until then, the only professionals to have seen the family were the local health visitor team who had run their concerns past children's services several times, but no action was taken to offer early help to the family. Without parenting support in place, the alarm was raised again when the boy was at school, but he still didn’t get any help from children’s services.
‘When we visited the family home it was filthy and smelly with barely any furnishings. The only comfort in the boy’s room was an old cushion which looked like a sack of potatoes and had never been washed. It was clear he had had no stability or routine.
‘At around six stone, he was twice the weight he should have been for his age and we discovered he was typically eating sausage rolls for breakfast, a whole tube of Pringles crisps at morning break-time and fried chicken take-away for tea most nights.
‘As well as always turning up dirty to school, he couldn’t function in the classroom or communicate with other children and would often make strange noises or start screaming.
‘We immediately began visiting two or three times a week to offer an intensive programme of parenting support– with a particular focus on healthy eating. And we contacted children’s social care to make an urgent referral into child protection.’
The boy has now been taken into long-term foster care and, according to the family support worker, has made ‘significant’ progress.
She added, ‘Early opportunities were missed to help him and his family a number of times when the alarm was raised. Sadly, the system failed him.’
Within the analysis, Action for Children makes a number of recommendations to Government, they include:
- Taking immediate steps to ensure the current funding crisis in children’s services is addressed in the forthcoming Spending Review.
- Ensuring that local authorities have sufficient funding and are incentivised to address problems early.
- Undertaking a review of early help and how local authority children’s services and wider safeguarding partners can be better supported to meet the needs of children and young people before they reach crisis point.
Imran Hussain, Action for Children’s policy and campaigns director, said, ‘It’s simply horrifying that thousands of children are being left to face the potential risk of abuse or neglect, not just once but again and again.
‘Every day at Action for Children we see the heart-breaking results of families suffering at the hands of domestic abuse, neglect, or drug addiction – these are scars that stay with children for the rest of their lives. But we know things can turn out differently if councils are able to step in with early help to stop these problems spiralling out of control.
‘Councils are being put in an impossible position and children are stuck in a revolving door – repeatedly referred to children’s services but only getting help when problems reach crisis point. The Government must urgently put an end to the punishing funding cuts which give councils no option but to drastically shrink children’s support services. Otherwise more and more vulnerable children will be left at potential risk and without the early help they desperately need.’
A Government spokesperson said, 'We want every child to get the best start in life and be given the care and support they need when they need it. This is why we have made £200 billion available to councils for local services, including children’s services, up to 2020 and we are improving children’s social care through our substantial reforms to improve the lives of vulnerable children.
'We are funding innovative ways of supporting vulnerable children and families – backed by up to £270 million investment in children’s social care programmes, including projects which focus on working with families at the risk of breakdown, preventing repeat referrals or escalation to child protection measures.'