Vulnerable children at risk of abuse and neglect are being let down by authorities “again and again” despite repeated referrals by social services, a charity has warned.
An alarming report by Action for Children found as many as 36,000 young people are being repeatedly referred to social services before any action is taken by cash-strapped local authorities.
It said it was “simply horrifying” that youngsters could be placed in danger due to a “revolving door” of referrals amid a national funding shortfall for local children’s services.
The charity highlighted one particularly distressing case of an unnamed, overweight six-year-old boy, who was living in squalor and surviving on crisps, sausage rolls and fried chicken every day.
He was unable to function or communicate with other children at school and, despite repeated referrals from a health visitor team, the charity and his teachers, a number of opportunities to offer early help and to take him into care were missed.
Eventually the boy and his mother, who had learning difficulties, were referred to Action for Children for intensive support.
Until that point, the only people who had seen the family were the local health visitor team, who had shared concerns with children’s services, but no action was taken to offer the pair help.
“Without parenting support in place, the alarm was raised again when the boy was at school, but he still didn’t get any help from children’s services,” the report said.
“When we visited the family home it was filthy and smelly with barely any furnishings.
“The only comfort in the boy’s room was an old cushion which looked like a sack of potatoes and had never been washed. It was clear he had had no stability or routine.
“At around six stone, he was very overweight for his age and we discovered he was typically eating sausage rolls for breakfast, a whole tube of Pringles crisps at morning break-time and fried chicken takeaway for tea most nights.”
It added: “The young boy is now in residential care but early opportunities were missed to help him and his family a number of times when the alarm was raised, and sadly the system failed him.”
Action for Children analysed referrals to social services by professionals such as teachers, police and health workers for two years.
It concluded that, based on 59% of cases - those in which children could be tracked - more than 70,000 youngsters were referred in both 2013/14 and 2015/16.
If the analysis was applied to all referrals, the figure could be more than 120,000 children, the charity estimated.
This includes cases where children may have been given support, but were referred again the following year, as well as those where no action was taken, leading to re-referrals.
The charity calculates that over the 70,000 children referred in both years, nearly one in three (21,000) who were referred in 2013/14, did not get support and were referred again in 2015/16.
This figure could be as high as more than 36,000, the charity calculated.
Imran Hussain, Action for Children’s policy and campaigns director, said: “It’s simply horrifying that thousands of children are being left to face the potential risk of abuse or neglect, not just once but again and again.”
He added: “Councils are being put in an impossible position and children are stuck in a revolving door - repeatedly referred to children’s services but only getting help when problems reach crisis point.
“The government must urgently put an end to the punishing funding cuts which give councils no option but to drastically shrink children’s support services.
“Otherwise more and more vulnerable children will be left at potential risk and without the early help they desperately need.”
Councillor Roy Perry, vice-chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said the government should not ignore “repeated warnings around the need to properly fund children’s services”.
“We have long warned of the rising demand councils face, with more than 180 children being placed on child protection plans every day to keep them safe from harm,” he added.
“This is no longer sustainable, with many areas struggling to cope.
“This report provides further evidence that children’s services is being pushed to the brink, as councils are now being forced to cut the very services which are designed to help children and families before problems escalate to the point where a child might need to come into care.”
HuffPost UK has contacted the Department of Education for comment.