Child abuse lawyer, Rachel Thain, discusses the NSPCC's latest figures on emotional abuse

The NSPCC has published a new report entitled How Safe Are Our Children? The 5th annual conference looked at how safe our children are, providing child protection professionals the opportunity to meet to debate and share insights regarding their experience of working to ensure the safety of children. It was an opportunity for professionals to share and discuss the latest strategies, policies and programmes to prevent child abuse and protect children.

This was an important event, as the key to ensuring children have the safe and happy childhood they deserve does not lie with one particular approach or one organisation. Rather, collaboration and cooperation between a wide range of organisations is needed, as well as an openness to new ideas and a willingness to work with others. The safety of our children must be ensured through the effective work of charities, the Police, social services, local authority, government as a whole, the legal system and us as a society.

The annual report was delivered by Claire Lilley, the Head of Child Safety Online for the NSPCC. The shocking figures regarding the increase in reports to the NSPCC of emotional abuse have been widely covered in the press. It has been revealed that in the last 7 years, there has been a 200% increase in the number of children being reported as victims of emotional abuse. The question, as is always the case when statistics of this nature are discussed, is whether there has been an actual increase in emotional abuse of children in this country or whether it is that more incidents of emotional abuse are being reported.

Examples given of the type of emotional abuse being reported includes children being threatened with extreme violence, being told by their parents they are hated or their parent wishes they were dead. There were also reports of children being blamed by their parents for their own unemployment or financial problems.

In the year 2016/2017, the NSPCC dealt with10,009 reports of emotional abuse, three quarters of which were deemed to be so severe they were referred to the Police or children’s services. When a referral is made to the relevant organisation, it is then necessary for steps to be taken to protect that child. However, there are significant concerns regarding the level of funding being provided to already stretched local authorities. It is concerning to think that the increasingly limited resources of those organisations with the power and responsibility are preventing or delaying action being taken. The long term impacts must be considered. The effects over time can be devastating. Related problems include a variety of mental illnesses, unemployment, substance misuse and other difficulties. Therefore, providing the right level of investment to ensure children are protected is vital. When concerns arise, they should be dealt with swiftly with the coordination of all necessary services. Doing so will significantly reduce the need for input from social services, mental health services and the Police in later years as in many cases the damage caused to that child will be reduced or stopped altogether. Early investment is therefore likely to save money in the long term.

The devastating thing is there is likely to be countless children who are suffering emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse which has not been reported. The extent of these figures is unknown, which is a terrifying prospect. Furthermore, the figures are from calls to the NSPCC helpline alone so do not include reports or concerns raised with other services, organisations or charities. The NSPCC is calling on the government to commission a study that will give the clearest possible picture of the extent of child abuse and neglect in the UK. It feels like we are always on the back foot when it comes to ensuring children are safe and protected. As such abuse most often occurs behind closed doors, we will probably never know the full extent of the problem. However, a detailed study to give as clear a picture as possible will hopefully allow a proactive approach to be taken where the level of resources required to tackle the issue can be identified and the right amount of funding provided. Only then can the battle of protecting children be tackled head on. Whether this happens remains to be seen.

Rachel Thain is a lawyer specialising in child abuse. She can be contacted in confidence on 0808 139 1597 or by email at info@abusecompensation.co.uk

Legal 500 Association of child abuse lawyers children law family law childhood champion awards Legal Expert