Project: Neglect in Serious Case Reviews

Funder: NSPCC

Dates: 2012- 2013

Research Team: Professor Marian Brandon, Sue Bailey, Dr Pippa Belderson, Birgit Larsson

This study provides a new contribution to learning about neglect by exploring the circumstances in which neglect can be catastrophic and have a fatal or seriously harmful outcome for a child.

The study is a re-analysis of data from over 800 cases from four consecutive government commissioned analyses of serious case reviews (2003-2011) undertaken by UEA.

The research questions:

* How often is neglect evident in the families of children who become the subject of a serious case review?

* What are the characteristics of children and families where children have suffered neglect?

* In what ways does neglect feature in these cases of child fatality and near fatality?

The first two questions are considered from a statistical perspective by firstly examining patterns over time in relation to those cases (from 2005-2011) of children who had a child protection plan for neglect. Secondly we use a protocol to determine the presence of neglect more widely for children in serious case reviews (from 2009-2011). The third question is considered through a qualitative study of themes from forty six cases drawn from 2003-2011, and provides a rich understanding of how different types and circumstances of neglect appear to result in a catastrophic outcome.

Key Findings

* Neglect is much more prevalent in serious case reviews than previously understood (60% of the 139 reviews from 2009-2011).

* Neglect can be life threatening and needs to be treated with as much urgency as other categories of maltreatment.

* Neglect with the most serious outcomes is not confined to the youngest children, and occurs across all ages.

The possibility that in a very small minority of cases neglect will be fatal, or cause grave harm, should be part of a practitioner's mindset. This is not to be alarmist, nor to suggest predicting or presuming that where neglect is found the child is at risk of death. Rather, practitioners, managers, policy makers and decision makers should be discouraged from minimizing or downgrading the harm that can come from neglect and discouraged from allowing neglect cases to drift.

The key aim for the practitioner working with neglect is to ensure a healthy living environment and healthy relationships for children. Prevention and early access to help and support for children and their families are crucial, but so too is later stage help for older children who live with the consequences of longstanding neglect.

Impact: The report has been widely disseminated by the NSPCC. It featured in an article in Community Care and was reported in The Times in March 2013.