Protecting young children at risk of abuse and neglect: new evidence review





The Nuffield Foundation has published a new evidence review, Protecting young children at risk of abuse and neglect. The review draws on data and research from the last two decades to explore changing patterns of abuse and neglect in early childhood, with a focus on the child welfare and family justice systems in England and Wales.

As the review shows, The Nuffield Foundation are seeing early signs that abuse and neglect may be increasing as a result of the additional pressures caused by the pandemic. Children’s services are already under pressure as a result of increasing rates of child protection interventions over the last decade, particularly for children living in the poorest areas. In the same period, funding for preventative services to support families has decreased, and many young children who are at risk of abuse or neglect are unknown to services and therefore not receiving the help they need.

The review highlights connections and tensions in the evidence, as well as gaps and uncertainties. It concludes that the ongoing debate about whether the state is intervening too little or too much is not only impossible to answer given the inadequate data available, but is the wrong question to be posing. Instead, attention needs to be given to whether public services are intervening in the right way to prevent harm and promote positive outcomes for young children.

The review calls for re-evaluation of the current system, with a focus on how public services and agencies can adopt a holistic and collaborative approach to support young children at risk of abuse and neglect, prevent harm, and promote positive outcomes. The time is right for such a re-evaluation, given the independent review of children’s social care currently underway.

Protecting young children at risk of abuse and neglect is the second evidence review in our Changing face of early childhood series, which seeks to generate an informed debate on early childhood based on what the collective evidence tells us. The series synthesises and critically appraises a large and complex body of evidence, much of it funded by the Nuffield Foundation, bringing together perspectives from different disciplines and vantage points.