NEGLECTED Wearside children were left so hungry they had to beg neighbours for food, it was revealed today.
The shocking issue was raised by the NSPCC, in a report which showed that calls to its helpline have doubled in two years and hit record levels.
The charity warned that the sharp rise will heap additional pressure on children’s services which are already overstretched, as more families suffer during the recession.
In Sunderland, 31 cases of neglect reported to the NSPCC were so serious they needed the police or children’s services.
These included children left home alone or outside in the cold for hours, or youngsters whose parents have drink or drug addictions.
The numbers revealed more than 305 children in the city were subject to child protection plans during the last year, because they were at risk of harm from neglect – a rise from 255 on the previous year.
Between April 2011 to March this year, trained NSPCC counsellors on the 24-hour freephone service dealt with more than 12,000 calls from people across the UK about neglect, of which 507 were from the North East and Cumbria.
“More people than ever are contacting the NSPCC about child neglect,” said Liz Benson, head of service for the North East.
“Some of this will be down to the public being more willing to speak out - and this can only be a positive thing - but there is clearly a worrying trend, not just in our figures, but from a range of agencies and bodies.
“More research is needed on why this sharp increase has occurred.
“Professor Eileen Munro highlighted in her review of social work the importance of acting quickly to tackle neglect, before problems spiral out of control.
“But social workers tell us they need better tools and training to help them identify and tackle neglect earlier.
“And parents need access to support to help them to change their neglectful behaviour.
“If we are to tackle this growing problem, these two issues must be addressed.”
Sunderland Council welcomed the report for raising awareness of the issue, but claimed neglect levels were no higher than in other similar areas.
Councillor Pat Smith, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We are committed to ensuring the continued welfare and safety of every child in Sunderland, and take a very proactive approach with our partners to identify and help any family which may find itself in difficulties.
“This approach has actually reduced the number of children with protection plans for neglect over the past year in our city, and we are currently working with the NSPCC on a national pilot project looking at new and even better ways of working with families where children are at risk of neglect.
“The effectiveness of the multi-agency work in Sunderland in responding to child protection concerns was recently praised by Ofsted, but we will heed the warnings of this report and continue to strive to prevent child neglect wherever possible.”