U.K. Sees Spike in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases; Question is ‘Why?’

November 16, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The U.K. finds itself in the same pickle as we do in the U.S (The Independent, 11/9/18).

That pickle is the one in which authorities charged with protecting children have far too little money with which to do the job.  There are too many cases and too few caseworkers to handle them.  And the number of cases is increasing, pointing to a potential crisis in the years to come.

A total of 53,790 children were on protection plans in the year ending March 2018, 10,600 more than the 43,190 being monitored at the same point five years ago.

That’s almost a 25% increase over just five years.  By any standard, that’s quite a spike which, if continued, could easily outstrip even heroic efforts to address the problem.

But, strangely enough, no one seems to want to hazard a guess about why there’s such a dramatic increase in cases of child abuse and neglect.  Certainly no one interviewed for the article did so and the writer never addresses the issue, which frankly is the most important one.

Why are there so many more cases?  Are British parents all of a sudden becoming less competent, more abusive?  That sounds dubious unless there’s been a spike in unmarried childbearing, divorce or some other phenomenon that tends to promote single parenthood and therefore greater abuse and neglect of children.  But there’s been no report of such a striking change in behavior among the Brits.

To my mind, the increased caseload likely stems from other factors that we’ve seen in this country as well.  Those include a greater likelihood of reporting alleged abuse or neglect to authorities.  Certainly the issue of child abuse is as much in the news there as it is here.  And that inevitably encourages people to report incidents or suspected incidents to child protective agencies more readily than they otherwise would.  Here in the U.S., 80% of reports of suspected abuse or neglect are deemed unfounded by child protective officials.  That massive over-reporting naturally takes resources away from cases of actual abuse or neglect, which in turn means that existing personnel spend their time chasing non-cases instead of tending to children in actual need.

Is something like that going on in the U.K.? 

Then there’s also the possibility that caseworkers are now calling abuse and neglect behavior that in the past would have been given a pass.  Again, that type of potential overreach is common in the U.S.  Here, CPS officials are encouraged in numerous ways to intervene in families whether it’s warranted or not.  First, their agencies receive increased funding from Washington if they do.  Second, in borderline cases, it’s always easier to intervene than not.  Intervention can always be justified as child protection, being proactive, etc., whereas refraining from doing so can look like negligence, particularly in hindsight.  Finally, there’s the invariable fact that government agencies tend to be motivated to justify the expenditures made on them.  The budgeting process requires agencies of all sorts to “grab for all the gusto” they can and no one in a child welfare agency gets paid for not intervening in families.

How much of that is true in the U.K., I don’t know, but I suspect much of the same is at work.  Indeed, the last point is the subject of the linked-to piece whose gist can be summed up as “there are vastly more cases, so we need vastly more money.”  That of course brings me back to my original question: “Why are there so many more cases.”  Naturally, it’s the one question no one asks and no one answers.

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