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Child protection law ‘must get urgent update’ - Main Section - Yorkshire Post
Child protection law ‘must get urgent update’The law on child abuse fails to protect children suffering neglect and emotional trauma and must be updated “urgently”, according to research published today.
A report commissioned by the charity Action for Children claims that the law on child neglect is out of date and confusing to parents.
The charity said neglect was the most prevalent form of child abuse in the UK, with criminal convictions having almost trebled in 10 years.
But it found the 80-year-old child cruelty law failed to cover all forms of neglect, including emotional abuse, which can cause long-term mental scarring.
The report, which has been backed by Labour, suggests that authorities should intervene in cases of continual emotional neglect, as well as physical neglect.
Vulnerable parents should be given more guidance and support to help them understand the law rather than being criminalised, experts said.
The report states: “It is time to challenge the assumption that the seriousness of child neglect makes imprisonment the necessary and preferred option, and to explore alternative sentencing options that are designed to challenge and support parents and help prevent further neglect.”
A YouGov poll of 1,092 parents found that two in three felt the current law on parenting was confusing. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed agreed that there was no common understanding of what “good enough” parenting is.
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Action for Children, said: “Neglect is the most common form of child abuse affecting children in the UK, yet we have an outdated law which does not reflect what we now understand children need and what neglect actually is.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 well-being.
“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 2001, 774 people in England and Wales were convicted of cruelty to or neglect of children. By 2010, this figure had risen to 2,172.
Labour said it would support the Government in bringing the wording of child neglect laws up to date.
Shadow Minister for Children and Families Catherine McKinnell said: “An issue of this seriousness and sheer scale must be a political priority for all parties.
“The Government should take steps to ensure that criminal legislation is fit for the challenges faced today and reflects our improved understanding of the very serious harm neglect causes.
“This is the right time to review the existing criminal law on child neglect.”
The research comes almost a year after social policy expert Professor Eileen Munro advised the Government to ensure councils provide enough early-help services for children and families.
Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said: “Children’s welfare and protection is paramount.
“The best way to stop abuse and neglect is to intervene early before problems escalate, which is why we’ve made clear that children’s services, police and NHS must target vulnerable families well before children are put at risk.
“We asked Professor Munro to carry out an independent review of child protection last year, and she identified that services are often too reactive.
“We know that if help is given to vulnerable children and families as early as possible, there is more chance of turning lives around and protecting them from harm.”