The number of potential child neglect cases referred to authorities in West Sussex by a national charity has doubled over the last five years, new figures have revealed.
Across the UK the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) sent 16,882 reports to police or children’s services in 2016/17, the equivalent of 46 a day.
In West Sussex this figure was 202, up from 101 referrals in 2011/12, which was revealed in the charity’s report ‘How Safe are our Children’ released today (Wednesday August 23).
There were also 18 calls and emails from residents in the county seeking advice about children being neglected.
The NSPCC argues that the figures come as children’s social care in England faces unprecedented pressures, with more young people being taken into care and more families needing support.
The charity is calling for the Government to commission a nationwide study to measure the extent of child neglect and abuse.
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “Neglect can have severe and long-lasting consequences for children, and can also be an indicator of other forms of abuse. This is why it is so important for anyone suspecting a child of being neglected to contact the NSPCC Helpline, so we can alert the authorities to quickly step in and help those in need.
“At the same time, it is vital we understand the true nature and scale of child neglect in the UK so we can collectively tackle the fundamental causes. Therefore, a Government commissioned, nationwide prevalence study on child abuse and neglect needs to be conducted, and sooner rather than later.”
Child neglect was mentioned in more than a quarter of all calls to the NSPCC Helpline in the last year, with the charity ascribing this rise to more people being willing to speak up about the issue.
Neglect happens when a child’s needs aren’t met and is down to several reasons; they range from parents not having the skills, support or funds, to having mental health issues.
A growing number of people contacting the NSPCC Helpline also described parents as having a problem with alcohol and drugs, with some of them regularly leaving their children unsupervised so they could go drinking with friends.
One neighbour told Helpline staff: “The children are home alone again; I saw the mother leave the house earlier this morning and its past midnight now.
“I’ve seen the children peer through the curtains a few times as if they’re waiting for her. She does this every Friday night to go out drinking with her mates.
“I’m really confused about what to do as I don’t want to ruin the relationship with the mother as we are neighbours but at the same time I am really worried about the children. What should I do?”
A family member of a suspected neglected child said: “I am concerned for the safety of a little boy; he does not seem to be getting adequate care at home. His mother doesn’t seem interested in looking after him and lets him stay up all night; she has alcohol and drug abuse problems. He is regularly being left unsupervised and I am worried that he could seriously hurt himself at home alone, because I know it has happened before.”
Neglect can have serious and long-lasting effects; in the worst cases, it can lead to a child suffering permanent disabilities or even dying from malnutrition.
Kate Mulley, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “These worrying figures add to the growing evidence that we are failing our most vulnerable children.
“We know from recent research with our teams across the country that more and more children’s lives are being overshadowed by substance misuse, domestic violence and neglect – and that we’re missing thousands of opportunities to act early.
“The Government simply cannot continue asking local authorities to provide children’s services with one hand tied behind their back. Savings targets have left them with little option but to close family support services that are proven to spot and address the signs of neglect before it’s too late.
“We urgently have to re-invest in community-based family support services to prevent this crisis spiralling.”
Last week Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne awarded £5,000 to the NSPCC’s Speak Out Stay Safe service of ‘Safer in Sussex’ funding.
Throughout the academic year, specially trained volunteers visit schools across Sussex to deliver the charity’s free service which teaches children aged 4 to 11 about the different forms of abuse and who they can turn to for help, including Childline.
It aims to reach children with vital, age appropriate messages to potentially stop abuse before it occurs.
In 2016/17 the service spoke to 38,149 children and visited 135 primary schools across Sussex.
Commenting on the award, NSPCC’s schools service manager Janet Hinton said: “We are extremely grateful to Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne for awarding us the funding.
“This is vital funding for us and means we can continue to visit primary schools across Sussex to deliver these important safeguarding messages directly to children through assemblies and workshops.”
Mrs Bourne added: “This fund is about helping local community projects make Sussex safer and that’s exactly what NSPCC’s Speak Out Stay Safe service is doing.
“Since launching the Safer in Sussex funding scheme in December 2013, I have made over £1m available to more than 200 local crime reduction and community safety initiatives.
“The scheme is making a real difference to communities across Sussex. The high numbers applying shows that local organisations and community groups care about, and are committed to, helping keep Sussex a safe place in which to live.
“I will be following the progress of the NSPCC’s Speak Out Stay Safe service closely over the coming months.”
Common signs and symptoms adults may notice in a child who is being neglected include:
- Poor appearance and hygiene, they may be smelly or have unwashed clothes
- Living in an unsuitable home environment for example dog mess being left or not having any heating
- Left alone for a long time
- Untreated injuries, medical and dental issues; they may have skin sores, rashes, flea bites, scabies or ringworm
- Poor language, communication or social skills
- Seem hungry or turn up to school without having breakfast or any lunch money
The NSPCC supports parents who are on drug or alcohol treatment programmes through their Parents Under Pressure service, providing them with help to develop secure and healthy relationships with their children.
To contact the NSPCC Helpline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year call 0808 800 5000, or email firstname.lastname@example.org