Ofsted has said that local authorities are not doing enough to protect children from neglect. The watchdog has warned that neglect needs to be better understood by councils and safeguarding-children boards and that more shared strategies should be developed to prioritise action.
According to Ofsted, there are “inconsistent approaches” to assessing neglect and conclude that children are being left for too long in harmful situations in nearly half of the long-term cases they examined.
Examples of poor practice included failures to take repeat incidents and family histories into account and prioritising the needs of vulnerable adults over children.
Debbie Jones, Ofsted’s director for social care, said the “devastating impact” of neglect on a child’s life was “widely accepted”. She said, “at its very worst, it can be fatal. Some children live with serious and complicated difficulties in their families, and we need to examine what we can and should be doing to stop neglect far earlier in their lives. Absolutely vital to this is ensuring all social care practitioners are able to recognise the impact that neglect has on children, as well as being properly supported by skilled and experienced managers who are able to advise on help and intervention before the damage becomes irreparable.”
Ofsted inspectors did find many examples of positive work to tackle neglect. However, many of the social-care professionals they interviewed were not offered in-depth training to recognise the signs of neglect and were not given access to information about best practice.
Debbie Jones said, “social care professionals have a tough job to do. The pressure of increased workloads and the scrutiny on child protection means that dealing with this challenging area effectively can be extremely difficult.”
An official from the Department for Education said Ofsted’s report, “highlights the devastating consequences neglect can have on vulnerable children, which is why we’ve been clear that anyone working with children should take swift action when alerted to the early signs of abuse and neglect. Our determination to tackle this problem remains resolute.”
The chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, David Simmonds said, “no child should remain in an unsafe or neglectful environment, and councils will not hesitate to intervene when children are thought to be at risk. In cases where the situation is not clear-cut, social workers face incredibly tough decisions between leaving a child with a loving but struggling family or the risks of taking them into care. Social workers still too often hear about children at risk when it is too late, and it is vital that agencies like the police, schools and health come together locally to review and improve the way we all work together to deal with neglect.”