One in five professionals working with children comes into contact with a new case of neglect every week.

New research by Action for Children in Scotland as part of a UK-wide review of child neglect conducted by the University of Stirling, spoke to social workers, teachers, health workers and nursery staff north of the Border.

The results showed 83% of professionals in Scotland have come into contact with a child they believe is suffering from neglect, while 19% said they came across individual cases of suspected child neglect on a weekly basis.

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Alarmingly, 43% of professionals in Scotland said they felt powerless to help, with many saying a lack of services or shortage of resources would prevent them acting.

Neglect or a lack of parental care now accounts for part or all of the reasons for 86% of all referrals to the children's hearing system.

However, Action for Children Scotland says many professionals are still uncertain as to when parental failings tip over into outright neglect, and how to intervene when they do.

While high-profile cases such as that of Baby P, and the death of Declan Hainey in Paisley, have caused outrage over the authorities' failure to intervene in cases of neglect, in reality few cases are as clear-cut, and definitions of neglect can vary.

More than one in 10 professionals (11%) claimed they had been given insufficient training on how to deal with neglect cases. In addition, one-third of Scots said they had been worried about the welfare of a child they knew, with 42% of that group not sharing their concerns.

Paul Carberry, director of Action for Children in Scotland, said: "Our research revealed that both professionals and members of the public are unsure about what to do in cases of suspected child neglect.

"It is more prevalent than physical and sexual abuse – accounting for 44% of all child protection registrations in Scotland – but can be difficult to spot and respond to."

The findings are published as leading child protection experts meet in Edinburgh today.

A panel including former Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway, broadcaster Lesley Riddoch, and early years champion and former Scottish health minister Susan Deacon, will lead an independent inquiry entitled What Makes Happy, Healthy Children? convened by Action for Children.

Mr Holloway said: "We know that many children in Scotland are not getting the best start in life.

"In a relatively wealthy country we have children whose lives are marked by poor health, poor nutrition, lack of nurture and care. This panel was convened to look at why that might be and, more importantly, what might be done."

Action for Children runs a series of programmes designed to improve responsible parenting and the quality of young lives.

Emily Black, of Aberdeen, is one mother whose family has benefited from such support. She almost lost her daughter Teagan and believes both she and her baby son Clinton would be in care if social workers and the charity had not intervened.

A mother at 17, she turned her own mother's tenancy into a party flat, inviting friends round for nightly drinking sessions and living in squalor. The scenario repeated itself when Ms Black moved into a home of her own.

She said: "I always made sure [Teagan] had the best of everything, like clothes and trainers. But she was neglected emotionally, though I would never have admitted that at the time.

"I got in with the wrong crowd and people who I thought were my friends would say 'you've got to have a life as well'.

"I couldn't see any impact. But sometimes when I took her home from nursery, because of the chaos, she would say 'no, I want to stay here'."

Now 22, Ms Black says she's changed her priorities with the help of Action for Children, who gave her supervised accommodation. She was monitored and helped with learning to cook and ensuring she could provide routines for Teagan, now five, and nine-month-old Clinton.