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Saturday, 30 June 2018

Analysis of social service referrals shows tens of thousands of children at risk of abuse

Written by Alison Kershaw

Tens of thousands of vulnerable children at risk of abuse and neglect may not be getting the help they need, a charity has warned.

A report by Action for Children raises concerns that high numbers are being repeatedly referred to social services before any action is taken.

It said it was "simply horrifying" that youngsters could be in potential danger due to a "revolving door" referrals.

In one case, no action was taken to help a six-year-old boy, living in filthy conditions, eating a diet of crisps, sausage rolls and fried chicken, the charity said.

Action for Children analysed referrals to social services, by professionals such as teachers, police and health for two years.

It concluded that, based on 59% of referrals - those for which children could be tracked - more than 70,000 youngsters were referred in both 2013/14 and 2015/16.

If this analysis was applied to all referrals, the figure could be more than 120,000 children, the charity estimated.

This includes cases where children may have been given support, but were still referred again the following year, as well as those where no action was taken and so youngsters were re-referred.

The charity calculates that over the 70,000 children referred in both years, nearly one in three (21,000) who were referred in 2013/14, did not get support and were referred again in 2015/16.

This figure could be as high as more than 36,000, the charity calculated.

In one case highlighted by Action for Children, a mother with learning difficulties and her son were referred to the charity for intensive support.

Until that point, the only people who had seen the family were the local health visitor team, who had shared concerns with children's services, but no action was taken to offer the pair early support, the charity said.

"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," the report says.

"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 very overweight 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 takeaway for tea most nights."

It adds: "The young boy is now in residential care but early opportunities were missed to help him and his family a number of times when the alarm was raised, and sadly the system failed him."

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."

He added: "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."

Councillor Roy Perry, vice-chairman of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said the Government should not ignore "repeated warnings around the need to properly fund children's services".

"We have long warned of the rising demand councils face, with more than 180 children being placed on child protection plans every day to keep them safe from harm," he said.

"This is no longer sustainable, with many areas struggling to cope.

"This report provides further evidence that children's services is being pushed to the brink, as councils are now being forced to cut the very services which are designed to help children and families before problems escalate to the point where a child might need to come into care."

A Government spokeswoman 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."

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