THE BLOG

Child Neglect: The Scandal That Never Breaks

26/03/2014 09:28 GMT | Updated 25/05/2014 10:59 BST

Many people know about the devastating impact of child neglect from high-profile cases that hit the headlines; the stories of Daniel Pelka, Hamzah Khan and Baby Peter Connelly are enough to show the most extreme, tragic consequences of this form of abuse. But the cases we see on TV, the blurry newsprint photos of children that make the front pages, are only a tiny proportion of those who are suffering every day.

One in ten children - more than 1.5million - suffers from neglect. It is the most prevalent form of child abuse and features in 60% of serious case reviews into the death or serious injury of a child.

There is probably at least one child on every street in the country who is suffering from some form of neglect. They are not fed or clothed properly. They are bullied by their parents, left on their own and disregarded by the people who are supposed to love them unconditionally.

Front line workers at Action for Children have told me about two-year-olds who no longer reach out their arms to parents in anticipation of a hug - these toddlers have given up on receiving any comfort or love; I can't imagine anything so heart-breaking.

What I find mind-boggling, is the fact that as a nation we have no overarching, strategic plan in place to address the issue.

Drift and delay has been a feature of responses to child neglect for years. For our report published today, Child neglect: the scandal that never breaks, Action for Children surveyed more than 5,000 people including children, adult members of the public and professionals who work with children. This is the fifth year Action for Children has published research about neglect, based on conversations with more than 18,000 people, more than 4,000 of whom were children. We do this research to inform our extensive work with families in this area - our targeted services help parents who need that extra support to look after their children, ensuring as many families as possible stay safe and together. We are using our research to put a spotlight on the issue and highlight the entrenched, systemic barriers that get in the way of taking action.

This year, the findings are a real eye-opener. Nearly three-quarters of children told us they know a child who has shown signs of being neglected. Our survey of more than 1,500 children were aged eight to 16; they see the extent of this problem, how is the Government missing so much?

We believe that these issues can be resolved. The Government has an opportunity to take a lead by producing an over arching national strategy, as it has done with other serious child protection issues, such as sexual exploitation. Action for Children is suggesting practical measures to be included in a strategy, such as ensuring no child slips through the net by initiating systems which allow children's centres to receive birth data for all children in their area so that parents can be offered the support they need to create happy, loving homes.

Another worrying statistic our survey reveals is that many people do not know where to go if they have concerns about a child; just under half the adults surveyed do not have enough information about who they could turn to. We want the Government to introduce an online portal so that everyone can seek help for children. The portal would provide a clear, single point of contact and send information directly to the relevant social services.

To support local authorities, there must also be a strengthened statutory duty to provide early help for families before situations get to crisis point and children are put in danger. This early intervention, which would include intensive work with parents who are struggling to cope to improve their confidence and parenting skills, would keep as many families together as possible while improving the lives of children.

There's a lot to be done, but our mission, that surely must be the mission of politicians too, is actually incredibly simple - to keep children safe.