Our Children and Neglect

Wednesday 9th of April 2014  |  Category: Opinion  |  Written by: Leoarna Mathias

Not long after our eldest child started school, I joined the governing body of the school she attends. It is satisfying to be part of a group of motivated and committed people who want to make things better for the pupils, their families, and the staff team. But along with the highs of getting the job done, come the lows of hearing about the lives of some of our students, for whom things are not so easy. I don’t live in the deepest of inner cities, but a rural slice of the South West, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t difficult stories of neglect and abuse happening in the next village or town. It is heart-breaking to hear the challenges some of the children face, and a sage reminder of how fortunate most of us are.

A recent report from Action for Children, entitled Neglect: the scandal that never breaks, highlights the extent of child neglect in our communities. It concludes that 1 in 10 British children suffers neglect at the hands of their parents or carers. This means they aren’t properly fed or dressed, and don’t always make it to school or medical appointments. 73% of kids know someone who is suffering neglect. Neglect is the most frequent reason for a child protection referral to social services. As Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children observes,

“They are ignored by their parents, left on their own or completely disregarded by the people who are supposed to love them unconditionally”

The report paints a pretty depressing picture of a certain slice of British parenting. And another recent report, from the NSPCC paints a similarly gloomy picture of the state of social services in the UK. Quoting directly from the BBC News report,

‘The report, entitled How Safe Are Our Children 2014, says demand for support and intervention has been growing as more families are suffering financially, and more people are willing to identify abuse and demand action in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.’

The report lays bare the sobering truth about many of our social services at present. Cuts in funding and an ever-growing caseload mean that many departments are raising the threshold of response, leaving them unable to take action in many cases, and greatly reducing their capacity to undertake any kind of preventative work. Not surprising then, that 43% of social workers feel powerless to help their clients. Ofsted, who inspect social services as well as schools, find local authorities inconsistent in their provision, and as I google the vacancies in social work for my own local authority, I find the ominous sign of multiple posts unfilled at every level. This reflects both the NSPCC’s report findings, and what staff at the school my daughter attends tell me about the absence of social work professionals in the lives of children who most definitely need such interventions.

I have no idea what the solution to all this is. I’m not a social work professional, or a teacher, or even someone who has an informed opinion about all this by virtue of having suffered neglect myself. But as a concerned citizen, I am left wondering how much longer we can tolerate the existence of at least one child on every street feeling alone, unloved and uncared for.

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