VULNERABLE children in Southend “are being put at risk of significant harm” due to a shortage of specialist police officers, the country’s top education inspector has warned.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, HM Chief Inspector of schools, claims social workers are attending “dangerous” home visits on their own because police are unable to help.

As a result, youngsters stuck in violent and abusive environments cannot escape because workers do not have the powers to remove them.

Sir Michael has written to Sir Thomas Winsor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, to express his “growing concerns”.

Referring to the 42 Ofsted inspections of children’s services carried out earlier this year, Sir Michael singled out Southend, saying specialist officers “were not available to carry out joint visits”.

He said: “This meant that social workers had to carry out potentially dangerous child protection visits on their own.

“As a result, they were unable to immediately remove children from danger as it is only the police who have the necessary powers.”

In July, the Echo revealed the local safeguarding children board required improvement.

An NSPCC spokesman said the situation could lead to children being “violated” as happened in Rotherham and Oxford.

He said: “It is disturbing to hear that police in Southend, as Sir Michael Wilshaw has pointed out, were not available for joint child protection visits with social workers.

“If they’re not present children can be at risk because police have the necessary powers to remove them from danger.

“When a child’s safety is in question, officers cannot afford to be slow to act.”

An Essex Police spokesperson said the Ofsted report said any children who needed to be protected “immediately” are “safe” and that some working practices have changed.

He said: “A community safety hub has already started work and a new multi-agency referral and assessment team launches this autumn.

“The HMIC has recognised that we have taken steps to improve child protection arrangements and few forces have invested more in tackling these issues.”