Featured briefing: A unique perspective from children, families and practitioners

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This NFER report looks at child neglect and investigated how to effectively support families with different levels of need across the early intervention spectrum to engage with services, within an overall framework of neglect.

Key findings:

  • Practitioners and families felt that more help needs to be offered to families early on, before issues escalate. However, practitioners felt that most help was available when families encountered more complex difficulties, rather than offering them preventative advice and support through education or universal services.
  • Authorities’ and different practitioner groups’ responses to a child who may be at risk of neglect may vary slightly.

To overcome current gaps in provision and challenges to supporting families effectively, practitioners and families suggested:

  • Promoting and advertising services more effectively to families and practitioners.
  • Simplifying processes (such as referral route times and the Common Assessment Framework process) and reducing waiting lists.
  • Improving multi-agency working and information sharing.
  • Improving families’ knowledge about children’s social care to help remove the stigma associated with getting help and to allay commonly held misconceptions.
  • Considering opportunities for offering families peer-to-peer support within the community.
  • Undertaking whole family holistic assessments and putting support in place for the whole family.
  • Ensuring frontline staff have core skills to help develop and enhance relationships with families.

Conclusion and recommendations:

  1. This research shows that practitioners and families share common views about how families can be supported. While the research focused on early intervention and child neglect, the noted successes to supporting families, the challenges associated with it and suggestions for making improvements are applicable to supporting any family that needs additional help (not only those experiencing neglect).
  2. The data shows that some practitioners would respond to families across all three levels of neglect, while others would not. They felt that most help was available when families encountered more complex difficulties, rather than offering them preventative support through education or universal services.
  3. Interestingly, when talking about children experiencing neglect, practitioners talked about the underlying issues whereas families talked about the symptoms of these issues. This may suggest that more could be done to educate families about neglectful behaviours.
  4. While practice varied between practitioner groups and authorities, some sectors continue not to engage with early intervention and prevention according to practitioner interview data. In particular, interviewees mentioned the education sector, general practitioners (GPs) not engaging with the CAF process, and a lack of information sharing. 
  5. One of the key factors in ensuring families are supported in a timely and effective way, and so do not enter a cycle of needing support (the ‘revolving door’), is to offer early intervention and preventative advice and support. Both practitioners and families agreed that more needed to be done to offer help early.
  6. To overcome current gaps and challenges, practitioners and families offered a number of suggestions. Some would require substantial investment (or system change), others were more practical and should be relatively easy to implement.

Read the full research report, '"We should have been helped from day one": A unique perspective from children, families and practitioners', here.