Concern that rise in child neglect cases could cripple services in Northamptonshire

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The NSPCC is warning that a sharp increase in reports of neglect cases will place additional pressure on already stretched children’s services across Northamptonshire.

The warning comes as new figures released by the charity today show that reports to its helpline about neglect have doubled over the past two years to reach record levels.

Last year trained NSPCC counsellors working on the 24-hour freephone service (0808 800 5000) dealt with over 12,000 contacts from people across the UK about neglect, of which 1,032 were from the East Midlands. The UK-wide figure is the biggest number of reports about neglect yet recorded by the charity’s helpline.

The latest NSPCC helpline report shows there were twice as many calls and emails to the charity about neglect as in 2009/10 and is up by a third since 2010/11 alone.

Of the 1,032 contacts from people in the East Midlands, 775 were so serious they required the involvement of police or children’s services – an increase of 32.7 per cent from the previous year (2010/11).

Of these, 145 were from Northamptonshire. In other cases helpline counsellors provided advice, support and information to callers.

Callers to the NSPCC helpline described children going hungry and begging neighbours for food. Others were worried about children left home alone or outside in the cold for hours on end, or children whose parents had drink or drug addictions.

The rise in reports of neglect to the NSPCC comes as local children’s services face unprecedented pressures, with more children being taken into care, and more families needing help at a time of significant funding cuts.

Last year 167 children across Northamptonshire were subject to child protection plans because they were at risk of harm from neglect – an increase from 66 in 2010.

And recent statistics from CAFCASS, the organisation that represents children in care cases, revealed that in 2011/12 the total number of care applications for all reasons topped 10,000 for the first time.

The NSPCC is testing ground breaking new approaches with local authorities to find out what is most effective in identifying, preventing and tackling neglect quickly.

The charity is also working with social workers and other professionals to find out what extra support and training they need. This research includes a survey in partnership with Community Care that is live online now and the NSPCC is urging professionals working with neglect cases to take part.

Fiona Richards, NSPCC regional head of service for the East Midlands, said: “More people than ever are contacting the NSPCC about child neglect. Some of this will be down to the public being more willing to speak out - and this can only be a positive thing - but there is clearly a worrying trend, not just in our figures, but from a range of agencies and bodies. More research is needed on why this sharp increase has occurred.

“Professor Eileen Munro highlighted in her review of social work the importance of acting quickly to tackle neglect, before problems spiral out of control.

“But social workers tell us they need better tools and training to help them identify and tackle neglect earlier. And parents need access to support to help them to change their neglectful behaviour. If we are to tackle this growing problem, these two issues must be addressed.

“The NSPCC is working closely with professionals and local government across the UK to find out the best ways to identify and tackle neglect before it ruins children’s lives. And we want the public to keep raising the alarm so families can be supported to prevent more children suffering the devastating consequences of neglect.

“Obviously if families will not or cannot improve, children must be protected and taken into care. But our experience shows that with the right support many families can improve their behaviour. The costs in both financial and human terms for supporting families to change are far lower than the costs of taking children into care.”

Anyone who thinks a child is being neglected or suffering any kind of abuse can contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, email help@nspcc.org.uk or report online at www.nspcc.org.uk/helpline.