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26 April 2012
The current criminal law on the most common form of child abuse - neglect - fails to protect children and must be urgently updated, according to a report published by Action for Children.
The report, Keeping children safe: The case for reforming the law on child neglect, spearheads a new campaign from the charity urging the government to reform the law on child neglect to ensure that children are protected, parents are supported rather than criminalised, and neglect is prevented.
In 2001, 774 people in England and Wales were convicted of cruelty to or neglect of children but by 2010 this figure had risen to 2,172, a near tripling of convictions in just ten years. However, convictions for child neglect are unlikely unless physical harm has come to a child, which is defined by law as an individual event such as an injury, rather than cumulative harm where there is no specific and serious single event.
Neglect can have some of the worst and most long-term effects on a child's brain, physical development, behaviour, educational achievement and emotional wellbeing and Action for Children is calling for this to now be recognised in law.
The current law on child neglect was passed in 1933. The charity is warning that it is now out of date and failing to protect children as it does not cover all forms of neglect, particularly emotional neglect. Providing more, better and earlier support for parents will recognise the complex causes of neglect, particularly where parents are vulnerable and may have been neglected themselves as children.Action for Children calls for law change on neglect
Parents have told* Action for Children that the current law is confusing and leaves them unclear about their responsibilities towards children. Of 1,092 parents polled by the charity:
Changing the law is a vital part of tackling neglect but, in order to be effective, it must be coupled with better information and support of parents so that they know what the law is and how they can get help if they are at risk of breaking it.
Dame Clare Tickell, Chief Executive of Action for Children said: "Neglect is the most common form of child abuse affecting children in the UK, yet we have an outdated law which does not reflect what we now understand children need and what neglect actually is.
"The law leaves children unprotected and parents without support and unclear about their responsibilities until it's too late. We must ensure that these vulnerable children are protected from the serious harm which neglect, in all its forms, causes to their health and wellbeing.
"We know that intervening early to tackle emerging issues within families prevents neglect before it spirals out of control. Under the current law, parents are punished only after serious damage to children has been done. This is why the law is failing children and why it must urgently be updated.
"In April next year the law on neglect will be 80 years old - Action for Children does not want to see that anniversary come and go without government commitment that it will be changed so that more children are protected."
Action for Children is calling for: