A report has urged greater awareness of the neglect of older children, saying that while agencies address neglect in younger children, neglect in older children often goes unrecognised.
The inspection by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorates of Probation and Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services highlights that while older children are expected to take more responsibility for their actions, they still need parental care and support. Professionals are not always doing the work to tackle neglectful parenting, it adds.
“The signs of neglect of older children may be more difficult to identify than signs of neglect in younger children, and older children may present with different risks. For example, older children may want to spend more time away from a neglectful home, and, given their experience of neglect, they may be more vulnerable to risks such as going missing, offending behaviour or exploitation,” said the joint inspection report.
The inspection explains that the way agencies understand and deal with older children’s problems means that the neglect they are experiencing can sometimes go unseen. Inspectors found professionals and parents can sometimes view the presenting issues older children face as the problem and this was often an unconscious assumption.
When a child’s presenting issues become the sole problem, professionals do not always consider their behaviour in the context of the impact of neglect on the child and they can fail to take action with parents regarding any ongoing neglect.
The report highlighted that parenting older children requires different skills, as does working with older children. The joint inspection covering six local authorities found evidence of professionals across agencies who lacked the skills and training to work with older children as effectively as they could.
A further problem identified was that adult services in most areas are not effective in identifying potential neglect of older children. For services to be effective in identifying the neglect of older children, there needs to be a whole-system approach, the inspectorates warned. This includes adult services that work with parents where professionals are well placed to identify risks parents may pose to children because of adult mental health problems, substance misuse or offending behaviour.
Further, professionals need to understand children’s behaviour in the context of trauma. This is particularly so for older children who may have experienced a great deal of trauma in their lives or who are experiencing trauma both inside and outside the home. Many of the children had experienced multiple forms of abuse and early childhood or chronic trauma is likely to affect a child’s mental and emotional well-being and behaviour into adolescence and beyond.
Inspectors highlighted that where there is a coordinated strategic approach across agencies to support a shared understanding of the needs of neglected older children, there was a significant difference to the quality of practice and experiences of older children suffering neglect.
Some areas took a strategic multi-agency approach, which ensured that staff across agencies had the support, training and tools they needed to tackle neglect of older children. These areas had a more consistent and considered way of working that was having a positive impact on many children.
“In summary, this is a complex area and one in which many individual agencies and partnerships can play a significant role in identifying and supporting older neglected children. Partnerships are at different stages in developing good and best practice to address the range of risks that older children face and are developing approaches and an evidence base about what works. We recognise that,” said the report.
“We would encourage local safeguarding partners to ensure sustained mutual challenge to: secure the very best local practice; develop responses informed by what older children tell you about what works; and adopt a continuous learning and improvement culture in local responses to this challenging area of multi-agency practice,” the report concluded.