By DAVID WOODING
CHILD neglect has soared to record levels as hard-pressed parents struggle to pay their bills.
Thousands of kids have been found begging for food, left home alone or sleeping in freezing bedrooms.
Calls to charity helplines have more than DOUBLED in two years with 12,000 cases reported in the past 12 months.
More than two-thirds of incidents were so serious that police or social workers had to be drafted in.
NSPCC chiefs last night warned the rising tide of neglect has piled added pressure on overstretched child protection services.
They fear vulnerable families hit by the recession are being pushed over the edge as their financial problems mount.
But many who need help are unable to get it as spending on social work is cut to the bone.
Children’s services face unprecedented pressures, with more kids being taken into care and more families needing help.
Last year 21,000 children were subject to child protection plans because they were at risk of harm from neglect, up 7.5 per cent on the previous year.
The shocking statistics only cover neglect and do not include children at risk of sexual or physical abuse.
Dr Ruth Gardner, head of the NSPCC’s neglect programme, said: “More people than ever are contacting us about child neglect.
“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.”
Callers to the charity’s helpline have described scores of cases of hungry kids begging neighbours for food.
Others have been worried about youngsters left home alone because working parents can’t afford child care costs.
And there have been reports of children outside in the cold for hours on end without warm clothing.
A dossier of cases seen by The Sun reveals the stark reality of child suffering behind the statistics.
One caller to the NSPCC helpline said: “The mother is drinking 24/7 and the child, who is three, is not being looked after properly.
“I walked into the house, the mother was passed out and the door wide open. The child was playing with a kettle and had got a bottle of bleach.”
An email to the charity added: “There are flies and maggots in some of the rooms. The house is full of unwashed clothes and is a mess.
“The pet dog lives in their bathroom. The whole house stinks. The young child can’t play anywhere as there is so much mess.”
Neglect is a “creeping problem” among both rich and poor families, according to the NSPCC.
Astonishingly, it goes on in 8.1 per cent of the more affluent homes.
But it is twice as high among lower social groups where 16 per cent of kids suffer.
Too little is done to protect neglected kids in two in five child protection plans, according to research by Bristol University.
Professor Eileen Munro highlighted the importance of acting quickly in her review of children’s services following the death of Baby P in 2007.
But Dr Gardner stressed: “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.”
“He is running up and down the road on his own with just a nappy on. His mother is indoors and takes no notice. This has kept on happening for three months.”
An anonymous caller about a three-year-old boy.
“He had sick all down him and he was in a shocking state. He was smelling of wee and she won’t wash his clothes and he was going round in the same clothes day after day.”
An anonymous caller about a ten-year-old boy.
“The children often go round to other houses in the street asking for money or something to eat for dinner because the mum and dad spend their money on drink and drugs. I find this appalling.”
A neighbour concerned about children aged seven and four.
“He doesn’t relate well to other kids and is very aggressive. Late at night, sometimes after 11 o’clock, I see him outside on the road. I don’t think he gets enough food. Very often I see him going to school late. His clothes are filthy. This has been happening for several years.”
A neighbour contacting the NSPCC about a 12-year-old boy.
“Their home is really dirty, food is left out for days. The boy reheats the food and then eats it. He has to make his own food whilst his mother sleeps all day. He washes in puddles in the road. The mum goes out at night and leaves him on his own.”
A neighbour contacting the NSPCC about an eight-year-old boy.