Barnardo's warns of lost childhoods as frontline staff struggle to cope with demand

By agency reporter
September 24, 2018

Social workers, education and law enforcement workers in England are facing a ‘perfect storm’ of complex growing need. Causes include increased poverty and lack of mental health services, combined with a crisis in confidence in their ability to provide the support needed.

The majority (60 per cent) of those responding to a YouGov poll for Barnardo’s have seen an increase in overall numbers of particularly vulnerable children in the past five years.

Strikingly, across-the-board, professionals say more  early intervention services are needed. An overwhelming number (67 per cent) of those reporting an increase in the numbers of particularly vulnerable children attribute this to a shortfall in early intervention.

The polling confirms anecdotal evidence from Barnardo’s services, which are increasingly reporting cases of children with complex and overlapping vulnerabilities (early trauma, neglect, grooming, sexual abuse, exploitation, gangs). This complexity of caseload is set against a backdrop of severe local authority cuts with more than three quarters (77 per cent) now saying there is insufficient resource to meet demand across services.

This is creating major barriers to children with complex needs getting access to the support before issues reach crisis point.

A significant 72 per cent of all those polled think social workers are unable to give all children on their caseloads the support and time they need, as a result of increased pressure on the agencies that interact with particularly vulnerable children. (The figure among social workers themselves is 85 per cent.)

And the wait for help is too long:

  • 68 per cent say children and families are waiting too long for help and support – a figure that confirms anecdotal evidence on the ground from Barnardo's service users, staff and supporters.
  • 44 per cent have seen an increase in the number of children who have experienced multiple forms of abuse or trauma in the last five years.
  • 40 per cent say children experience increased incidents of abuse and trauma whilst waiting to be offered a service as a result of the increased pressure on agencies.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said: "The results of this survey are a real wake up call. What we’re seeing is a ‘perfect storm’ of more children needing help, increasingly complex challenges, and a system struggling to cope. 

"With less and less resource for early intervention, and long waits for specialist mental health services, we are in danger of failing a generation of vulnerable children who face a future without hope. It’s also a false economy – young people who don’t get help now will develop far deeper and more costly problems in the future."

Asked to break down the areas where they have seen an increase in demand for support in relation to the children they work with:

  • 57 per cent said in adverse child mental health
  • 47 per cent said in adverse parental mental health
  • 42 per cent said among children witnessing domestic abuse

Worryingly, among almost half (47 per cent of those polled), of the professionals working in the area who come into contact with vulnerable children are not confident they could offer secure effective support for children considered to have experienced multiple forms of trauma and abuse.

Over a third (36 per cent) claim agencies that deal with particularly vulnerable children who need support, do not work together very well.

* Barnardo's


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