For years, Action for Children has been making as much noise as we can about the severe abuse suffered by neglected children. Neglect is the most frequent reason for a child protection referral to social services and features in 60 per cent of serious case reviews into the death or serious injury of a child. The NSPCC estimates that more than 1.5 million children - that's one in ten - suffer from neglect in the UK. I find it abhorrent that I live in a country where so many children are still not receiving the help they need.
Tens of thousands of social workers throughout the UK devote their lives to helping children out of desperate and abusive situations. To get to the root of what could help more families, we asked these professionals about the pressures they face. The findings were both distressing and revealing.
More than 40 per cent of social workers told us they have felt powerless to intervene in cases of child neglect, with nearly a third saying they lack the necessary time and resources. Worryingly, one in three said reduced funding would make it more difficult to intervene in these cases over the next year. In a recent survey by the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS), nearly 80 per cent of local authorities said they were replacing universal and early help services for families with more targeted, sharp-end interventions.
These shocking figures come at a time when adequate resources are needed more than ever to tackle child neglect: nearly 30 per cent of all professionals who work with children told us they had seen a rise in such cases over the past year.
We need to think differently. For years, high profile child protection cases, such as Baby P and Daniel Pelka, have prompted political action, but efforts have always focused on restructuring the sharp end of the system, which tackles problems when they have already reached crisis point. We have not seen the bold decisions needed to transform the way we support families and invest in early help. The result? Professionals such as social workers continue to struggle to cope and far too many children suffer harm that could have been prevented.
Yet we have clear evidence that the most effective way to tackle child neglect is to invest in effective early action that will take pressure off vital social services and support households before they reach crisis.
Families can experience a wide range of challenges, many of which can be addressed by services such as children's centres, parenting support programmes and targeted, intensive support. These services can help parents cope, preventing situations from boiling over into a crisis that can threaten children's safety, even lives. There are so many stages at which parents can be supported to be the best parents they can be, before drastic action is needed; recognising and providing support for this range of needs is a fundamental first step to keeping more children safe.
Experts have, of course, identified early action for years as the best way of helping families as well as taking financial pressure off services. Just yesterday, Ofsted's report on children's social care said that for every £1 spent on early help services, local authorities spend a further £4 on high-cost reactive child protection. In our latest survey, Action for Children found that this understanding is shared by the public: 57 per cent told us that services supporting families before problems got worse were among the most important to help in cases of child neglect.
We have had far too many neglected children for far too long: we need to work together, as early as possible, to attack those numbers and change the story for more than a million children.