Education and health professionals are often prepared to overlook neglected children to a point that the general public would regard as unacceptable, new government research reveals.
Academics from Stirling, Dundee and Loughborough universities reviewed 63 pieces of research into identifying neglected children.
Their findings, published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, follow the high-profile failure of Haringey council to spot the abuse that led to the death of Baby P last year.
"Recognition of neglect is inconsistent," the academics said. "It should not be assumed that parents or children will seek help in response to experiencing the factors associated with neglect."
But in many cases, this is an issue of definition. "There are differences between professionals' views of neglect and those of the general public, with the general public setting higher standards for children's care," they said.
"Operational factors affect thresholds for both support and service provision."
The researchers pointed out that health visitors were often unsure how to report concerns because of the high thresholds for access to services.
They also stressed the importance of teachers' role. It is not enough to have protocols and guidelines in place at school, they said.
"Human issues, such as trust, relationships, communication, anxiety, fear and confidence affect willingness to act on concerns," they said.
"Practitioners ... need to develop networks built on trust and mutual aims, in order to ensure that children can access all the services they require."
Children often display behavioural signs of neglect by the age of three. But it is not possible to create specific links between neglectful parenting and particular patterns of behaviour.
"Practitioners from all professions should be proactive in seeking creative and supportive ways to ask people about their parenting concerns ... and children about their experiences," the academics said.