Anna Gupta

May 7, 2014 by Anna Gupta, Department of Social Work, Royal Holloway, University of London

Two reports have been published recently into child neglect. The messages are similar in what they say and, more crucially, what they don’t say. The Ofsted (2014) report ‘In the Child’s Time: Professional Responses to Child Neglect indicated that professionals were often not responding in timely and effective ways in cases of child neglect leaving children in harmful situations for too long. The recommendations focus on professional practice, including increased training to identify the signs of neglect, analyse risk factors and take decisive action where this is required, in addition to ‘robust management oversight of neglect cases’.

However, nowhere in this report is there any reflection on whether it is appropriate, or indeed feasible, to place the responsibility on individual practitioners for recognizing and addressing such a complex issue as neglect and, crucially, no mention at all of any of the research evidence on the impact of poverty and inequality on the lives of vulnerable children and families.

The second report, Action for Children’s (2014) Child Neglect: The scandal that never breaks, argues that despite the scale of the problem, and the devastating impact that neglect has on children’s lives, it does not receive the political attention it deserves. The report calls for the Government to produce a national strategy on neglect that includes increased training for professionals, a public awareness campaign and the updating of the criminal law on child neglect to include emotional harm. The report also highlights the need for measures to identify and promote evidence-based practice to tackle child neglect.

The omissions in this report are more striking. While their own commissioned research found that professionals and parents felt the most common reason for increased child neglect, namely the ‘elephant in the room’ was poverty, exacerbated by the Coalition Government cuts in welfare spending (Burgess et al., 2014) nowhere is this mentioned.

Whilst the vast majority of parents living in poverty do not neglect their children, the clear association between poverty and neglect has been highlighted for many years. In 1998 Professor Olive Stevenson attributed child neglect to a complex interaction of factors exacerbated by living in poverty and other studies have continued to identify this association (Spencer and Baldwin 2005; Hooper et al., 2007). Neglect is complex and often multi-dimensional. It, therefore, requires a level of sophisticated analytical assessment that recognises both psychological as well as social influences on parents and children’s functioning. Burgess et al. (2014, p. 41) rightly suggest that ‘assessments of neglect should explicitly pay detailed attention to the wider environmental factors that place additional pressure on parents and affect children’s lives’.

The literature on inequality is of great relevance here too. As Wilkinson and Pickett (2009) note, poverty needs to be understood relationally. In very unequal societies the reactions of others intensify shame. This contributes to self harm and harm to others and to a society that is more divided and less solidaristic.

Studies, such as Hooper et al. (2007), have highlighted the importance of social support to mitigate the risk of neglect among parents living in poverty. This message is repeated in the review by Burgess and colleagues (2014), which highlights the importance of family support services that are accessible to parents in order prevent problems escalating, and practitioners who build relationships and work alongside parents. Currently, cuts in family support services and pressures on local authority Children’s Services also limit the opportunities for families to work with professionals who try to understand the complexities of their lives and promote their capabilities to care effectively for their children.

Poor families are living in the eye of a perfect storm currently. Cuts in support services and changes to welfare are intensifying the already well documented pressures on them to survive and thrive. It is disappointing to find two such influential reports failing to acknowledge this and, moreover, setting families and those who work with them up to fail by producing analyses that are insufficiently located in the research evidence on the multi-dimensional nature of neglect.


Action for Children (2014) Child Neglect: The scandal that never breaks

Burgess, C., Daniel, B., Scott, J., Dobbin, H., Mulley, K. & Whitfiled, E. (2014) Preventing child neglect in the UK: what makes services accessible to children and families? An annual review by Action for Children in partnership with the University of Stirling.

Hooper, C., Gorin, S., Cabral, C. and Dyson, C. (2007) Living with hardship 24/7: The diverse experiences of families in poverty in England. London: Frank Buttle Trust.

Ofsted (2014) ‘In the Child’s Time: Professional Responses to child neglect.

Spencer, N. & Baldwin, N. (2005) ‘Economic, cultural and social contexts of neglect’. In J. Taylor and B. Daniel (eds.) Child Neglect: practice Issues for Health and Social Care. London: Jessica Kingsley

Wilkinson, R and Pickett, K. (2009) The Spirit Level. London: Penguin

September 27, 2012 by Jo Tunnard, RyanTunnardBrown

Did you know that this year about 90,000 children and young people in England will spend time being looked after by a local authority?

For many children, this is a brief period while their family sort out a crisis and then the children return home. For others, it can go on for longer and this can mean that children get cared for in different ways, for some as they grow into adolescence and for others as they become adults.

These different types of care include living with relatives, or with foster carers, or being adopted, or living in a residential home with other young people. Sometimes it still ends up with children going back home or to other family members. All these ways of looking after children are part of the English “care system”.

The aim of our care system is to support families to help keep children safe and happy, and to make sure that children have a permanent place to grow up in. But, as the learning from practice and the evidence from research develop, is the care system still serving our children as well as it should be? The Care Inquiry wants to take stock on this important question.

The Care Inquiry is a collaboration of children’s charities with a special interest in all the care options for these children and young people. The charities are Adoption UK, British Association of Adoption & Fostering (BAAF), Family Rights Group, the Fostering Network, Research in Practice, TACT, The Together Trust and The Who Cares? Trust.

Together, they are using their expertise and knowledge – and that of others in the sector – to explore how society can best provide secure and stable homes for our most vulnerable children.

The Care Inquiry wants to:

  • take a fresh look at which children come in and out of the care system;
  • explore what we know about how children in care can have the same chances as other children to grow up with a positive sense of their identity and where they belong;
  • find out what more can be done to provide children and young people with a sense that they have a home for life, and;
  • make recommendations to government about how the care system can best meet the needs of children and young people in the future.

This is a good time to run The Care Inquiry. The government is reviewing different aspects of care, including how children’s homes operate, which children get adopted, and what happens to contact with sisters, brothers and other relatives after adoption. There are likely to be changes in the law about these things next year and we all have a duty to make sure that decisions made about vulnerable children are made in the best possible way and based on the best possible evidence of what works, for whom, and in what circumstances.

Local authorities make decisions about children in care in different ways. We want to find out more about why this happens and what it means for children and those close to them. We want to check what research studies and other reports have told us in recent years. We want to see what we can learn from the way other countries respond to the needs of children and young people who might not be able to stay at home or go back home from care. We want to get people talking about what they know, what they think, and what they themselves and others close to them can tell us about their own experience of the care system.

There will be three formal meetings of the Care Inquiry in November, December and January. These will be for invited people, and the aim is to:

  • look at recent trends in the law and practice for children in care;
  • learn from young people and adults about how the care system can support long-term stability for children, and;
  • debate how best to provide well for all children in the care system, given their different ages, backgrounds and needs.

Those invited to the formal meetings include researchers, local government policy makers, legal experts, service practitioners and managers, and young people and adults who have experience of the care system.

There will be plenty of opportunities for everyone to get involved in The Care Inquiry. You can follow the Inquiry on Twitter, or visit our Pinterest page where you can find out all the information you need about the Inquiry’s work and the organisations involved.