Up to 140,000 vulnerable children in England are not getting the help they need, according to a report from Action for Children unveiled on Monday 14 August.

The charity's research, based on Freedom of Information (FOI) requests sent to more than 150 local authorities, warned that the children were slipping through the cracks of the social care system because their needs fall short of the criteria for support.

Action for Children found that 184,500 children's needs assessments were closed as "no further action" because they did not meet the threshold for statutory services.

Of these, around one in four families received early help services such as children's centres or domestic violence programmes, leaving an estimated 140,000 children without support.

"Our report turns a spotlight on the thousands of families up and down the country who are not getting help, despite concerns having been raised about the welfare of a child," said Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children.

"Social care can't just be there for when a family is in meltdown. Every day too many children's lives are overshadowed by drugs, alcoholism, domestic violence and neglect – a toxic recipe for all kinds of problems now and in later life.

"Punishing savings targets have given local authorities no option but to drastically shrink or abandon services, including family support, leaving large numbers of children on the fringes of social care without the help they need. We are missing opportunities to help these children and their families at an early stage."

The charity is calling on the government to strengthen the legal framework for early help services and provide adequate funding to local authorities so they can provide help as soon as children need it.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Across government, we are taking action to support vulnerable children by reforming social care services and better protecting victims of domestic violence and abuse.

"Councils will receive more than £200bn for local services up to 2020 and spent nearly £8bn last year on children's social care but we want to help them do even more.

"Our £200m Innovation Programme is helping councils develop new and better ways of delivering these services – this includes projects targeting children who have been referred and assessed multiple times without receiving support."