Child Neglect: are we failing our children?

Advice  |   26 March 2014

So another day, another report about our – apparently - neglected children (this report was preceded yesterday by a similar document from ‘Action for Children’). So what is the Ofsted report saying and what is it asking for?

So another day, another report about our – apparently - neglected children (this report was preceded yesterday by a similar document from ‘Action for Children’). So what is the Ofsted report saying and what is it asking for?

Woeful neglect. The education watchdog wants the extent of neglect better understood by councils and safeguarding-children boards, and the development of more shared strategies to prioritise action. It suggests that this ought to include, local authorities engaging more with the providers of professional services within their communities, including us Lawyers, who play a vital role in the recovery process for parents, should any formal action the Social Services may take.

What types of neglect? The range of neglect at this low level can include lack of good nutrition, hygiene, a bed to sleep in, attending school without a proper breakfast, clean clothing, or being worried about an absent parent or being anxious about one who is struggling with alcohol. In fact , the report suggests that their situations so often slip through the net because either the signs are too subtle to recognise, or because we become very British about “minding ones own business and not interfering” or in other words, turning a ‘blind eye’.

The report also focuses on a chilling and ironic subtext to the broader issue: Figures suggest most children know another child suffering from neglect. In fact, other children who note it on the playground or pick up messages from their peer groups seem more in – tune with the issue than us adults – the alleged perpetrators of the neglect!

What of the role of the Social Services? It seems that they are in something of a catch 22 situation, because resources are low and attention is being focused on more extreme cases. Understandable, but acceptable? Has the recession acted to make us both more likely to create and tolerate neglect, whilst at the same time, be less resourced to mitigate its effects? “Surprised” by.

Speak to a solicitor: Here at Thackray Williams we are trained to note the signs of early level neglect, which can of course develop into something more significant and serious over time. We can help by getting involved with families at the early stages of any social service intervention, or indeed, before it gets that far; this could include perhaps child protection meetings, looking at working together agreements, and working with families to ensure that they put good structures in place moving forward to protect their children from harm. This can include attending various courses, for example, if either parent is being exposed to domestic abuse from their partner. Perhaps engaging in local recovery courses for alcoholism or drug abuse; parenting courses in terms of good nutrition and other helpful steps that can be put into place to ensure that children are looked after, and that local authority’s attachment to families does not go beyond this to the issuing of Care Proceedings.

Of course, when situations are recoverable, the children and parents have the support they need and can go on to lead very happy lives. However, more often than not, we meet with parents at their “crisis” point; when it has become “too late”. But in view of today’s findings, that distinguishing factor tipping the scales for intervention is far more opaque

The crisis point for our parents tends to be after local authorities have attempted to work with them over time, but still seen NO real improvement, despite support being offered. At this stage, there is no option but to issue Care Proceedings.

The big question is, if the parents had taken the opportunity to seek legal advice sooner, would have listened, been made aware of the consequences of allowing their children to remain in dangerously neglectful environment and changed the outcome?

Ultimately, sometimes Care Proceedings can be the best thing for a child, a real catalyst if it means their suffering is brought to light and dealt with. It can in many respects be said to be the ‘road home to recovery’. If we can stop neglect far earlier in a child’s life, then it has less of a devastating impact. It is surely unacceptable that it becomes ‘the norm’ to accept low levels of neglect just because there is so much of it that goes on.

You can contact Anne Francis at Thackray Williams for more information or if you are worried about a family.