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Barnardo's warns of lost childhoods as frontline staff struggle to cope with demand

Release Date: 23 Sep 2018

Social workers, education and law enforcement workers in England are facing a ‘perfect storm’ of complex growing need. Causes include increased poverty and lack of mental health services, combined with a crisis in confidence in their ability to provide the support needed.

The majority (60%) of those responding to a YouGov poll for Barnardo’s have seen an increase in overall numbers of particularly vulnerable children in the past 5 years.

Strikingly, across-the-board, professionals say more  early intervention services are needed. An overwhelming number (67%) of those reporting an increase in the numbers of particularly vulnerable children attribute this to a shortfall in early intervention.

The polling confirms anecdotal evidence from Barnardo’s services, which are increasingly reporting cases of children with complex and overlapping vulnerabilities (early trauma, neglect, grooming, sexual abuse, exploitation, gangs). This complexity of caseload is set against a backdrop of severe local authority cuts with more than three quarters (77%) now saying there is insufficient resource to meet demand across services.

This is creating major barriers to children with complex needs getting access to the support before issues reach crisis point.

A significant 72% of all those polled think social workers are unable to give all children on their caseloads the support and time they need, as a result of increased pressure on the agencies that interact with particularly vulnerable children. (The figure among social workers themselves is a breath-taking 85%.)

And the wait for help is too long: 68% say children and families are waiting too long for help and support- a figure that confirms anecdotal evidence on the ground from Barnardo's service users, staff and supporters.

44% have seen an increase in the number of children who have experienced multiple forms of abuse or trauma in the last 5 years.

40% say children experience increased incidents of abuse and trauma whilst waiting to be offered a service as a result of the increased pressure on agencies.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said:

The results of this survey are a real wake up call. What we’re seeing is a ‘perfect storm’ of more children needing help, increasingly complex challenges, and a system struggling to cope.  

With less and less resource for early intervention, and long waits for specialist mental health services, we are in danger of failing a generation of vulnerable children who face a future without hope. It’s also a false economy – young people who don’t get help now will develop far deeper and more costly problems in the future.

But with a radical new approach we can turn this around. Last year Barnardo’s supported 301,100 children young people, parents and carers across the UK. By forming Strategic Partnerships with local and national agencies, co-designing and delivering services, and investing our donors’ money, alongside statutory sources, we can achieve a real step change, so that young people get help long before they reach crisis point.

Asked to break down the areas where they have seen an increase in demand for support in relation to the children they work with:

•57% said in adverse child mental health

•47% said in adverse parental mental health

•42% said among children witnessing domestic abuse

Worryingly, among almost half (47% of those polled), of the professionals working in the area who come into contact with vulnerable children are not confident they could offer secure effective support for children considered to have experienced multiple forms of trauma and abuse.

Over a third (36%) claim agencies that deal with particularly vulnerable children who need support, do not work together very well.


Polling analysis – England only.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1090 adults of which 293 work in law enforcement, 295 are social workers and 513 work in education. Fieldwork was undertaken between 28th August - 11th September 2018.  

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