36,000 children are at risk of potential abuse and neglect in a cycle of repeated referrals

Posted by / Saturday 30 June 2018 / Early intervention
Worried about a child2

Our new research reveals thousands of children are repeatedly referred to children’s social care without receiving the support they need. We look at who these children are and why there is a shortage of help.

When a teacher, GP or police officer notices behaviour out of the ordinary for a child, they use their professional judgement to decide whether to contact children’s social care. A social worker will then decide whether to carry out an assessment to determine if the problem is serious enough to receive support.

reasons for referral

You might think that any child in this situation would get some kind of help, whether that be statutory or from an early help service.

However our new findings show that thousands of children are repeatedly referred to children’s social care but get no help until their problems escalate to crisis point, with vital opportunities to intervene earlier missed. The same people - teachers, police, GPs - are referring these children, for the same serious concerns - abuse and neglect - as children who do go on to get statutory help.

These are professionals who have policies and training to make appropriate decisions about a child’s safety.

We found that more than 120,000 children were referred to children’s social care in both 2013/14 and 2014/15. 

About 36,000 had their case closed in the first year and were referred again the following year. Of these, almost two thirds (63%; 23,000 children) were found to be ‘children in need’ at this later assessment. This suggests chances to intervene earlier are being missed.

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More worryingly, the remaining third, more than 13,500 children, did not get statutory support for a second time, leaving them stuck in a revolving door of re-referrals. Our findings from last year show that only 1 in 4 of such children are signposted to early help.

Vital family support such as children’s centres can provide help that could stop problems spiralling out of control, and prevent the need for statutory services later on.  However years of central government budget cuts mean that often, these essential support services are no longer available.

Children’s services’ spending on early intervention services has fallen by 40% and late intervention risen by 7% since 2010. Councils are in an almost impossible position with increasing demand and reducing budgets forcing them to concentrate on putting out fires, not preventing them.


The current system is failing these children and families. Something needs to change.

Action for Children are calling on the government to use the 2019 Spending Review  to ensure that  local authorities have the funds they need to support children and families at the right time.

As well as the right funding, we need the right approach. The government must carry out a review of early help to see what is working well and what is not to meet the needs of children and young people before they reach crisis point.

Read the full report to find out more about the revolving door so many children, in need of support, are stuck in. 

read the full report

Next steps


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