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Agencies failed abused and neglected children

Date:4 FEB 2008

A new report by the University of East Anglia (UEA), commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), shows that during the period 2003 to 2005, agencies were struggling to prevent serious injury and death among abused and neglected children.

The UEA researchers studied 161 serious case reviews (SCRs) in England between April 2003 and March 2005. Of these, two thirds of the children died and the rest were seriously injured. Almost half of the children were under 12-months-old.

The report found that 55 per cent of the children were known to children's social care at the time of the incidents and 12 per cent were named on the child protection register.

The report comes five years after Lord Laming's inquiry into the murder of Victoria Climbié, who was tortured and killed by her great aunt and the woman's boyfriend in 2001.

Despite Lord Laming's report, which was thought to have reformed child protection services, the UEA report found that 83 per cent of the families involved had been previously known to children's social care services and some cases were 'closed' just days or weeks before the incidents.

The researchers found poor communication between agencies was common and agencies wasted time arguing about which agency was responsible for 'hard to help' older children (over the age of 13). All agencies were preoccupied with eligibility for services rather than having a primary concern for the child.

The report also revealed that in families where children suffered long-term neglect, children's social care often failed to take account of past history.

The lead author of the report, Marian Brandon, a child care specialist at the UEA. Though the majority of these cases were essentially unpredictable, our findings suggest that risk could be minimised if practitioners were more curious and thought more critically and more systematically. But in order to practise in this way, workers need to be well supported, by their managers and senior managers. Many practitioners lacked support and were in teams depleted by staff absence and long term sickness.

"In many cases families were known to adult services and not just to children's services. There needs to be a shift so that children and whole families are a priority for all agencies not just those directed at children. We need better join up between agencies and more creative, more responsive services that have the interests of children at their core."

The report, 'Analysing Child Deaths and Serious Injury through Abuse and Neglect: What can we Learn?' can be found on the DCSF 's 'Every Child Matters' website at: