Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 March 2021
The child population in England in 2019 is 12 million, and it is increasing; children make up approximately 21 per cent of the population. The child welfare system was established in 1948 as one of the pillars of the welfare state (Packman, 1975). Local authorities (in 2019 numbering 152, ranging in size from large cities or counties to medium-sized towns or areas) have responsibility for social services for children and families, including child protection, which they deliver through an array of arrangements including with commercial and third sector organisations. The legislative framework, the Children Act 1989, aimed to establish a family service-oriented system (compare Gilbert et al, 2011) but following the scandal of the death of ‘Baby P’ (which we discuss later) and the shift to a government policy of austerity after the 2010 general election, there have been substantial cuts to funding for many preventive and family support services (ADCS, 2018). The system is now largely oriented to child protection with children's services’ resources focused on investigating and responding to risks and providing care for children in need of protection away from home (Children's Commissioner for England, 2018).
Child protection in England is a multi-agency endeavour involving, among others, local authority children's services departments that have statutory responsibility for protecting children; the police and Crown Prosecution Service who investigate and prosecute crime; the health service, which diagnoses and treats children who are ill, injured or disabled; numerous non-governmental organisations providing support for families or care for children, including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), which historically has investigated child protection cases; and the justice system. Local authority children's services rely on referrals from these other agencies, from families and the public to identify children at risk. Within local authorities, qualified social workers are the lead professionals in investigating and responding to child protection. There are only limited legal obligations to report child maltreatment; rather, this is regarded as a professional responsibility of all who work with children and a moral responsibility in the community, a position supported by media campaigns by the NSPCC. Increasingly children's services teams involve other professionals, including psychologists and support workers, and some are co-located with police child protection services and/ or other services for families. Health professionals are central to the identification of both ill-treatment and neglect.