Abuse and neglect in early childhood in ‘urgent need of review’ – study

Protecting children at risk of abuse and neglect under the current system needs ‘urgent re-evaluation’,  Protecting young children at risk of abuse and neglect, a study by the Nuffield Foundation finds.  Incidents of serious harm to children under the age of one increased by 31 per cent – 102 children – and 50 per cent for children aged one to five – 48 children – during the early months of the pandemic, between April to September 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.

The  usual pathways for referring children to services were disrupted, meaning that children at risk of abuse and neglect may have been missed.  Children’s centres were closed, health and GP checks were done via video link, and health visitors were redeployed during the first lockdown, which made the situation even more acute for infants and for babies born in the pandemic.  The review draws on over 140 sources to shed light on changing patterns of abuse and neglect in early childhood in England and Wales over the last 20 years.

It calls for an urgent re-evaluation of the current system, with a focus on how public services and agencies can adopt a holistic and collaborative approach to support young children at risk of abuse and neglect, prevent harm, and promote positive outcomes.

Carey Oppenheim, co-author of the review and early childhood lead at the Nuffield Foundation, said, ‘The independent review of children’s social care services currently underway is recognition that our system of child protection and support needs to be re-evaluated. Over time, we have seen a shift away from provision of early support to help families who are struggling, towards later interventions that are more likely to separate families and which are more expensive to provide.

‘Alongside this, there are young children at risk of abuse and neglect who need help and are not receiving it because they are not known to services. These concerns have been pulled into sharper focus by the pandemic, and its economic consequences are likely to mean more pressure on council budgets and services at exactly the point families need them most.

‘At the same time, we cannot solve all the problems faced by young children through children’s social care services – social work and family justice are only one part of the solution. Poverty remains a significant risk factor for children and alleviating the financial pressure on families would make a difference in enabling young children to thrive, as would a more holistic and collaborative approach across public services and agencies.’

It is estimated that there are more than half a million children under five living in a household with domestic abuse, parental mental health problems or parental substance misuse. Prior to the pandemic, a considerable number of young children at risk due to their family circumstances were missed by services each year.

In 2019, 46 per cent of children who died or were seriously harmed in 2019 were not known to the child welfare system, the review found. An increasing proportion of young children have also been subject to child welfare interventions over the last 10 to 15 years.

According to the Nuffield Foundation, the proportion of babies under one subject to care proceedings in England increased from 51 to 81 per 10,000 children between 2008 and 2016.

Young children subject to child welfare interventions have poorer early language development and this gap persists as they start school. Children who are, or have been, in care, score 24 per cent lower in English, maths and science at Key Stage 1 than children who have not received a social work intervention. For those who have ever had a Child in Need Plan, these scores are 14 per cent lower.

Opportunities to address these gaps are being missed because too many children do not take up early education places, the review found.

There is no national data on how many looked-after children access early education, but analysis of selected local authority data suggests that among looked-after children aged two- to four, 71 per cent are in early education compared to a national average of 85 per cent. This is despite of the fact that looked after 2 year olds are entitled to funded places.

Source Nursery World

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