Preventing child neglect in the UK: what makes services accessible to children and families?

Posted by Hannah Dobbin / Wednesday 09 April 2014 / Child neglect

Neglect is the most common form of child abuse in the UK today. Up to one in 10 children across the UK suffers from neglect, it is the most frequent reason for a child protection referral, and it features in 60% of serious case reviews into the death or serious injury of a child. Yet children and families still struggle to get the help they need. So what makes services that tackle child neglect accessible to children and families?

Action for Children has worked in partnership with the University of Stirling for four years to produce our annual reviews on child neglect. The findings from these reviews were used to inform our latest policy report Child neglect: the scandal that never breaks.

Our third annual review – Preventing child neglect in the UK: what makes services accessible to children and families - was published in March 2014. It is based on the views of more than 5,000 children, young people, parents, carers and professionals.

‘It can be a big burden for a child to ask for help.’

Children and young people seek help in different ways, sometimes talking to friends or relatives, sometimes seeking advice through the internet or via a phone line. They may test out help seeking, finally choosing to speak to a professional when they want action to be taken. Ultimately most want a face-to-face conversation with someone they can trust. This could be a friend, relative or teacher.

Children and young people told us about what stops them from going to adults for help:

  • Being unsure whether the adult could be trusted to keep confidences and not tell other adults or the young person’s parents
  • Not knowing whether the adult is a ‘safe person’ to talk to
  • Uncertainty about whether the adult has time to listen and what their reaction will be to what you they are told
  • Uncertainty about whether the adult has training to be able to help
  • Fear of the story being ‘twisted’ in some way if relayed to others
  • Fear of other children finding out and being teased or bullied

Having no-one to talk to about their worries can be a burden on children. Some may write down their problems and feelings to alleviate this, others seek different outlets:

‘I used to talk to my dog and it really helped me.’

The majority of adults surveyed (94%) agreed that people should become involved where they have concerns that a child is being neglected but just under half surveyed said that they did not have information about who to contact for help.

Parents told us about the kind of early help that can prevent problems from getting worse, including pre-school playgroups, children and family centres and therapeutic services. They said how difficult it can be to ask for help and that they want accessible information about the different local organisations to which they could go for help and advice.

Our annual review includes recommendations for practice. Hear more about this on Friday (11 April) in our guest blog by Professor Brigid Daniel from the University of Stirling.

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