Vulnerable older children are often treated as “the problem” rather than victims of trauma, regulators have found.
A report published today following multi-agency inspections in six council areas says the causes of problematic behaviour by children aged between seven and 15 are sometimes not identified, resulting in neglect going “unseen”.
The Care Quality Commission, Ofsted, the Inspectorate of Probation and the Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has called for better training of staff to raise awareness of neglect in older children and improve understanding of behaviour in the context of the trauma they have experienced.
The report says there is often an “unconscious assumption” that a child’s behaviour is the only problem, resulting in staff across agencies failing to challenge parents over neglect.
“[This] shows that front line services work together to tackle issues like youth violence and gang involvement, but often there is little consideration of the underlying causes that contribute to this behaviour, such as neglectful parenting,” the report adds.
The inspections in Stockton-on-Tees, Cheshire West and Chester, Haringey, Bristol, Peterborough and Wokingham found adult services in most areas, including those focused on mental health and substance misuse, are failing to identify older children at risk of neglect.
The report said high caseloads in some rehabilitation companies “were severely limiting the ability of these agencies to gather information about children”.
It adds that few interventions focus specifically on neglected older children, with many practices and resources designed to respond to younger children.
The report also says that the exact prevalence of neglect of older children is unclear despite the government considering it to be the most common form of child maltreatment.
It found council reporting fails to provide a “consistent picture”, with one local authority reporting neglect as a factor in half of cases while no assessments in another council identified neglect as a feature.
Ofsted’s national director for social care Yvette Stanley said the inspections had identified children who had been neglected over many years.
She added: “These children are incredibly vulnerable. They can seem ‘resilient’ and appear to be making ’lifestyle choices’, when they are in fact finding unsafe ways of coping, like getting involved in gangs or misusing drugs and alcohol.
“Behavioural issues must, of course, be dealt with. But unless local agencies consider the role of neglectful parenting, and take action to address it, as well as supporting children in a way that recognises the impact of their traumatic childhood, then their chances of a successful future will continue to be low.”