Teachers are having sleepless nights about whether to report suspected victims of child neglect, a report for a charity says.
The Action for Children report adds that many police officers and social workers say they feel powerless to intervene in suspected cases.
It claims neglected children are being trapped in the safety net designed to protect them because of this.
The government says it is tackling many of the issues the report raises.
The charity's report, Review of Child Neglect 2011 - written by academics at the University of Stirling - is based on focus groups, existing research and polling of more than 4,236 adults, including 2,174 professionals who come into contact with children.
It comes as England's Children's Commissioner Dr Maggie Atkinson says she is to research jointly with the NSPCC how well primary schools in England deal with protection concerns of young children.
The Action for Children report suggests that over half of those surveyed (52%) have been worried about a child they know or who is living in their area.
It also suggests that many social workers, 42% of those polled, feel that the point at which they could intervene in child neglect cases is too high.
And some 52% cited a lack of support services to which they could refer families.
The percentage of social workers who say they feel powerless to intervene has gone up from a third to just over half since 2009.
In the focus group sessions, professionals including primary school teachers reported "sleepless nights" wondering what they should do in cases of suspected child neglect.
Action for Children chief executive Dame Clare Tickell said: "Neglect corrodes childhoods, robbing the most vulnerable children of hope, happiness and life chances.
"All our findings point to the stark reality that neglected children and their parents are being identified, but neither the professionals nor the public feel empowered to help or intervene, particularly at the early stages."
The report's findings are supported by an official review of England's child protection system by Professor Eileen Munro.
She called for a shake-up of the system, saying it had become dominated by individuals "doing things right" rather than "doing the right thing".
Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: "The earlier that help is given to vulnerable children and families the more chance there is of turning lives around and protecting children from harm.
"It's one reason why last year we asked Professor Munro to do an independent review of child protection. She identified that services are often too reactive and we are now helping children's services, police and the NHS to work together and focus on early identification before problems escalate.
"We are also working with Ofsted to make sure their inspections look at whether children are getting the help they need."