Vulnerable children not in crisis are ‘left in limbo’

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Thousands of vulnerable children in England are being “left in limbo” because their needs are not severe enough, a charity has warned.

Action for Children estimates 140,000 children referred to social services over issues like drugs, alcoholism, domestic violence and neglect are not getting the help they need.

It says they often fall through the cracks as they are not at crisis point.

Ministers say their social care reforms will improve support.

Based on Freedom of Information requests from 141 local authorities in England, the report says: “These children have needs that are too great for schools, health or other universal services to meet on their own, but they are not eligible for support from statutory social care services.

“Our research suggests many are living in challenging family situations, affected by issues like domestic violence or substance misuse.

“Without the right help, there’s potential for these situations to escalate to crisis point, placing children at risk of harm.”

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Action for Children says some children “may be stuck in a ‘revolving door’ of children’s services, repeatedly referred and assessed but not receiving help”.

The charity is calling on the government to strengthen current legislation for early help services and to provide adequate funding to local authorities, so they can offer help as soon as children need it.


‘Safe haven’

Mother of two “Ella”, from Buckinghamshire, had to pick up the pieces after her ex-partner who was “very controlling and had issues with alcohol” walked out, leaving her facing eviction when her son was under a year old.

“He used to spend all his money on drink and tell me he’d paid the rent when he hadn’t,” said Ella.

Her health visitor referred her to a children’s centre which sorted out her housing and organised domestic violence counselling and a parenting course.

“Chatting to other parents at the centre was great and really helped me build my confidence, which had been knocked badly because of my ex-partner.

“If I hadn’t have had the children’s centre, I’d still be in fear of my ex-partner and be listening and doing what he says.

“My son really had a connection and bond with his dad and it really did affect him when he left, but by taking my son to the children’s centre with all the other children, that really helped mend the damage done.

“The children’s centre was a safe haven to go to and just be with other mums and be somewhere I could get advice. If it wasn’t for the children’s centre, I really don’t know where I’d be right now.

“Thanks to them I’m now back on my feet and am working as a nursery nurse.”


Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, said opportunities to help these children and their families at an early stage were being missed.

“Social care can’t just be there for when a family is in meltdown,” said Sir Tony.

“Every day too many children’s lives are overshadowed by drugs, alcoholism, domestic violence and neglect – a toxic recipe for all kinds of problems now and in later life.

“Punishing savings targets have given local authorities no option but to drastically shrink or abandon services, including family support, leaving large numbers of children on the fringes of social care without the help they need.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Councils will receive more than £200bn for local services up to 2020 and spent nearly £8 billion last year on children’s social care but we want to help them do even more.

“Our £200m Innovation Programme is helping councils develop new and better ways of delivering these services – this includes projects targeting children who have been referred and assessed multiple times without receiving support.”

Vulnerable children not in crisis are ‘left in limbo’

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