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Undernourished, unclean and neglected... the sorry picture emerging of life for youngsters in the North East; Experts say number of cases is rising.

Byline: Alastair Craig

THE North East is today named as a UK child neglect darkspot as new research is revealed by a national welfare charity. Evidence from frontline workers suggests child neglect is continuing to rise despite outrage in the wake of the Baby P scandal and high-profile cruelty cases in the region such as that of tragic baby Aaron O'Neil who was battered to death by his own father.

Dozens of healthcare professionals and teachers in the region have warned that cases of undernourished and unclean children are on the rise, according to Action for Children.

However, last night some experts said it may just be reporting of cases which is on the rise rather than an actual increase in child neglect.

The Action for Children study found that 14% of professionals working with children in the North East have seen an increase in suspected neglect over the past 12 months, yet only 26% claim to have been trained on how to react to the warning signs.

The survey involved 70 frontline workers in the North East and another 1,900 across the country.

Shockingly, the North East has the highest level of neglect cases in England as a percentage of children on council protection plans, figures show.

Action for Children said studies suggested that up to 10% of children in the UK experienced neglect, the biggest reason for a youngster having a child protection plan, ahead of both physical and sexual abuse.

A total of 2,265 under-16s are now under local authority watch in the region, with 52% of those, or 1,185 individuals, registered for neglect.

Professionals in the North East said they had encountered clear signals in schools, nurseries and hospitals that had alerted them to neglected children.

Of the 70 interviewed across the region, 46 said they had suspected a child who was unclean or smelled was being neglected.

Thirty two said they had suspected a child who was displaying worrying behaviour patterns was being neglected; 25 cited a child wearing inappropriate clothes for their age or the weather as a possible neglect case; 33 said they suspected a child exposed to potentially unsafe situations such as drug and alcohol abuse was being neglected and 35 said a child who was regularly late for school or nursery would be a cause for serious concern.

The leader of Barnardo's in the North East said last night that the rise in new recorded cases could be a result of extra vigilance among social workers following the high-profile case of Baby P in Haringey last year.

Peter Connelly was a 17-month old boy who died in London after suffering more than 50 injuries over an eight-month period, during which he was repeatedly seen by social services.

One county council admitted that its workers had seen a "significant escalation" of child neglect cases in the last 12 months, a trend they say is common with other local authorities. Jonathan Ewen, director of Barnardo's North East, said: "We can not say we have encountered an increase in the number of cases of child neglect, but there is certainly a raised awareness of it among professionals after the Baby Peter case.

"This is certainly the time to have more discussion on the issue of child neglect and we welcome that.

"We are also very supportive of any research into the issue and braver decisions in dealing with it, providing there are sufficient resources made available to work with these most vulnerable children and families."

Durham County Council said that child neglect had been identified as a problem area last year by police, social workers and schools.

A spokeswoman said: "In common with other local authorities, County Durham has seen a significant escalation in cases of neglect over the past year.

"In 2008, neglect was identified as a major issue by Durham Local Safeguarding Children Board, which includes the county council, police, social workers, schools and other public and voluntary sector organisations."

She said that guidance on dealing with neglect had been distributed across the county and all social workers were required to attend an intensive course on the issue as part of their training.

The authority has also launched a scheme called Family Pathfinder where teams work to address emerging difficulties faced by parents to prevent more serious concerns such as neglect from developing.

A spokesman for Newcastle City Council said: "Neglect is the single biggest cause of children having child protection plans. We make sure our staff and our partners have the skills they need to spot the signs of neglect through training carried out by the Newcastle Safeguarding Children's Board, and we work closely with families who are struggling using our early intervention teams so that their problems do not spiral into neglect, but everyone has a role to play in keeping our children safe."

Sam Cramond of North East Strategic Health Authority said: "We of course take all cases of child neglect very seriously and are working in partnership with key stakeholder organisations across the north east to help reduce the number of cases of neglect by ensuring signs are identified early and that appropriate steps are taken as soon as possible."

For the full report and for a video, go to HORRIFIC TALES OF NEGLECT AND ABUSE THE report comes after numerous cases of neglect and abuse in the region. In June, calls were made for an urgent probe into the shocking case of a four-year-old Tyneside boy raised in "Dickensian" squalor.

The youngster was found in a filthy home in Newcastle's West End which stank of urine and was full of flies and cat droppings.

His mother and grandmother, who had neglected him so badly he had to have all but four of his teeth removed under general anaesthetic, both admitted child cruelty at Newcastle Crown Court and were put on community orders.

In February, a couple accused of inflicting appalling injuries on babies escaped jail after neither would admit responsibility.

Zoe Taylor and partner Daryl Gray blamed each other for the catalogue of injuries suffered by her four-month-old twins.

Taylor, now of Jopling Way, Cambridge, but living in South Tyneside at the time, had met Gray, of Victoria Road West, Hebburn, on the internet shortly after Imogen and Oliver were born.

Imogen was taken to hospital on December 12, 2007, where it was discovered she had bleeding on several parts of her brain, multiple bruises to her forehead, ear, temple, cheek, sternum, knee, buttocks and shoulder. An examination of Oliver showed he was also covered in bruises, had nip injuries to his ear, a blood blister on his toe, an umbilical hernia and had not been washed properly.

The pair eventually pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of neglect on the basis they failed to protect the children from harm, failed to get medical attention but that they did not inflict the injuries.

As a result, rather than getting long jail terms they were each given 51 weeks' custody suspended for two years.

Baby killer Paul O'Neil was jailed for life in 2006 for the murder of his three-month-old son Aaron.

Father-of-six O'Neil, 33, a jobless dope smoker, was said to have been jealous of the attention his son was getting from partner Jodie Taylor.

A post-mortem examination revealed the ordeal the baby had suffered during his 92 days of life at the family flat in Banbury Road, Kenton, Newcastle.

The wounds included three skull fractures, two of them carried out days before Aaron died, along with a fractured left shoulder and multiple broken ribs.

Experts also found extensive second degree burns to his face and hand from being deliberately held against a gas fire and what appeared to be a cigarette burn to his right shoulder.


BLAMING EACH OTHER Daryl Gray and Zoe Taylor. BATTERED TO DEATH Paul O'Neil was jailed for life in 2006 for the murder of his three-month-old son Aaron, pictured.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 13, 2009
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