Cash-strapped child protection agencies are now acting as little more than an emergency service following a surge of reports of abuse in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, the NSPCC has warned.
The charity said in its annual report on child safety that record numbers of people coming forward coupled with tough economic times meant struggling children’s social services are only able to focus on the worst cases.
To tackle the problem, it called for all professionals who come into contact with children to take responsibility for detecting and preventing abuse and neglect.
The number of sexual abuse victims calling charity helplines has increased dramatically since the abuse carried out by Leeds-born DJ Savile over 40 years emerged in 2012.
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “With record reporting of child abuse, hard pressed children’s social service departments have little choice but to raise the threshold of where they act.
“This is leaving large numbers of children with no statutory support. Acting alone, children’s social services struggle to be more than an emergency service, getting involved when pain and suffering for children is already entrenched or risk is very high.
“Whilst poverty does not cause child abuse or neglect it can put additional strain on families that are already struggling and tip them over the edge.”
The NSPCC said that the death of four-year-old Daniel Pelka, murdered in Coventry by his mother and her partner in 2012, exposed the lack of a joined-up approach to child protection.
Daniel’s killers were known to police and other services who had been involved with the family on at least 27 occasions over their domestic violence and alcohol issues.
The charity said that, although those interventions were intended for adults, recognising that there were vulnerable children in the household could have helped keep Daniel safe.
Alan Wood, vice president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said it was unfair to claim that children’s social care is now effectively an emergency service.
He said: “Safeguarding is everybody’s business - child protection is a multi-agency endeavour. The NSPCC’s report acknowledges the financial pressures faced by children’s services, who have had their budgets cut by over 26 per cent since 2010.
“However it is not correct to say that children’s social care is effectively an emergency service only. Local authorities are working hard to ensure that the needs of their children and families are met, but it is true that services do not look the same as they did in the days of plenty.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “The vast majority of councils have protected frontline children social care budgets. According to an independent Audit Commission report, council spending on children’s social care on average increased by 1.2 per cent in real terms since 2010-11.
“As this report shows, they are taking action to protect more children, and Ofsted inspections are checking that children are getting the right help at the right time.
“However, it is still up to councils to ensure that staffing and caseloads are at appropriate levels to manage risk to local children.”