A QUARTER of neglected and abused children in Southend are already at risk of significant harm by the time social services step in, figures reveal.

The latest Department for Education statistics show 2,423 children were judged to be in need of support after being referred to the council’s social services in 2018-19.

Of these, 26 per cent were made the subject of a child protection enquiry, which the British Association of Social Workers says indicates a juvenile is at crisis point.

This was up from 15 per cent when records began in 2009-10.

Mental health was the most common concern for children referred to social services, mentioned in 68 per cent of assessments, followed by domestic violence, which featured in 64 cent.

John O’Loughlin, director of children’s services at Southend Council, said: “We recognise how vital it is that children grow up living in a safe, secure and loving environment, which is why we have increased early prevention and intervention services to target exploitation of vulnerable children and adults at the earliest opportunity.

“We have teams such as MASH+ (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub) and the Multi-Agency Violence and Vulnerability Group, set up specifically to intervene in situations where children are at risk through an adult’s use of drugs, mental health issues or domestic violence.

“We also work closely with the Better Start Southend programme and have a dedicated early year’s team to give parents early support.”

When social workers suspect a child is suffering or is at risk of harm they will make what is known as a Section 47 enquiry, to determine if they need to intervene.

If they conclude the child is at risk, they can put a protection plan in place.

In Southend, 13 per cent of vulnerable children were under protection plans during 2018-19, compared to 6 per cent nine years earlier.