Calls to the NSPCC Helpline reporting suspected child abuse and neglect have reached record levels, the children charity revealed today.
In 2010/11 NSPCC counsellors referred 16,385 serious cases to police or social services, a 37 per cent increase on the previous year and the biggest annual increase in referrals to the Helpline yet recorded.
Forty six per cent of the people who contacted the Helpline last year were reporting concerns so serious they needed to be passed on to the authorities - up from 39 per cent the previous year.
Recent NSPCC research found nearly one in five secondary school children in the UK has been severely maltreated during childhood, most commonly through neglect. There are currently around 46,000 children of all ages on a local child protection plan or register.
The charity is calling for a major shift in UK child protection policy towards earlier and more effective intervention in child cruelty cases. John Cameron, head of the NSPCC Helpline, said: "We must pick up on children's problems as early as we can to stop their abuse. Social workers cannot be in the community all the time. But members of the public can be their eyes and ears.
"The NSPCC Helpline provides advice and counselling to people who have concerns about a child. It also brings abused and neglected children to the attention of local agencies and act as a gateway to local services.
"The increase in referrals over the last year shows more people want to play their part in keeping children safe. We refer only the most serious cases to local agencies for further investigation. More than one in three of these cases involve families previously unknown to local authorities."
Last year, the Helpline made 12,296 referrals about suspected child cruelty following contacts from neighbours and members of the public - up 4,588 (60%) from the previous year.
The biggest increase in referrals last year was for neglect, which jumped 81 per cent to 6,438 cases. Neglect remains the top reason for people contacting the helpline. We also referred 4,113 cases of reported physical abuse, 1,520 cases of sexual abuse and 2,932 cases of emotional abuse.