Realising the potential: tackling child neglect in universal services

Topics: Neglect Safeguarding and child protection

How practitioners can play a leading role in tackling child neglect in England

Neglect is the most common reason for a child to be on a child protection plan in England. By providing early help we can prevent children suffering unnecessary harm and save resources in a child protection system increasingly under pressure.

This report draws on the views of 893 health visitors, school nurses, GPs, midwives, teachers and early years practitioners, and 18 young people (aged 11-24). They told us what help is currently provided by universal services to tackle child neglect, what the barriers are to providing early help and about their ideas on how services can be better supported to provide early help.

Using this research we set out a model for the provision of early help for neglect in universal services and make recommendations for what is required to get there.

Author: Alice Haynes
Published: 2015

Key findings

What professionals and young people told us

  • All universal services practitioner groups believe they have a responsibility to identify neglect and provide early help. However, there's a lack of consensus within professions about what this looks like.
  • All practitioner groups provide early help in a variety of ways. Differences between groups relate to the nature of the service provided but also highlight gaps in provision.
  • Many practitioners provide early help through signposting families to other agencies and contacting other practitioners working with the child.
  • However, too few practitioners talk to children about their concerns or monitor children when they are worried, and too many are referring straight to social care about early concerns.
  • Barriers to the provision of early help include:
    • workload and time pressures
    • problems with multi-agency working and information sharing
    • not feeling equipped to develop constructive relationships with parents
    • lack of training on how to respond to child neglect
    • lack of awareness of local thresholds for intervention
    • young people feeling it's not always easy or possible to develop trusting relationships with universal services practitioners.
  • Practitioners' ideas and examples for better practice include:
    • government investment in early help
    • enabling family support workers to provide high-quality early help through increased training and supervision
    • Local Safeguarding Children Board-wide neglect strategies.
  • Young people want a greater focus on building relationships with them.

Model for universal services to tackle neglect

The model sets out a series of clear steps that form a pathway towards meeting a child’s needs.

  • The pathway starts with identifying parental risk factors for child neglect.
  • Stages include assessing a child’s needs, providing direct support to parents and children and reflecting on progress.
  • At each stage practitioners should refer to their Local Safeguarding Children Board threshold document.
  • Early help activities to support the child should take into account the child’s age and family circumstances.
  • Support to meet the child’s needs should be provided within meaningful timeframes for the child.

Recommendations for successfully implementing an early help model

  • UK Government, local government and commissioners must ensure resources are available to support universal services practitioners to provide early help.
  • Professions within universal services must be clear about their role in providing early help.
  • Pathways for the provision of early help need to be clear and accessible.
  • Information sharing and multi-agency working should be open, professional and respectful.
  • Practitioners should receive training and supervision that supports their confidence and ability to take early action before referring concerns to children’s social care.
  • Relationship building between practitioners and families must be the focus of universal services delivery.


"Safeguarding is everybody's business therefore everyone has a role to play"

School nurse

"Long-term relationships are the best cure I'd say. For someone to speak to, the ideal person is someone that has built up a long-term relationship and friendly and stuff like that"

Young participant


Please cite as: Haynes, A. (2015) Realising the potential: tackling child neglect in universal services in England. London: NSPCC.