A record number of calls about child neglect to the NSPCC last year reveal a "worrying trend", the charity has warned.
New figures show that between April 2011 and March 2012 the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) counsellors dealt with over 12,000 contacts about neglect from the public - the biggest number of reports about the subject since the helpline was launched.
The NSPCC report revealed calls about neglect have doubled in the past two years, and are up by a third in the last year alone. And the charity warned the sharp increase is placing additional pressure on already stretched children's services, with more children being taken into care and families being affected by cuts.
Dr Ruth Gardner, head of the NSPCC's neglect programme, said: "More people than ever are contacting the NSPCC 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, 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."
In 8,600 of last year's contacts, the concerns about children were so serious they required the involvement of police or social services, the NSPCC said.
Callers to the charity helpline described children going hungry and begging neighbours for food. Others were worried about children left home alone or outside in the cold for hours on end, or children whose parents had drink or drug addictions.
Last year over 21,000 children in the UK 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 NSPCC said.
Recent statistics from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), which represents children in care cases, revealed that in 2011/12 the total number of care applications for all reasons topped 10,000 for the first time.
The NSPCC said it is testing a new approach with local authorities to find out what is most effective in identifying, preventing and tackling neglect quickly.