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Two-thirds of police officers want emotional neglect to be punishable by law

Action for Children campaign for an extension of the criminal law of child neglect

Nearly 70% of police officers in England and Wales believe emotional neglect towards a child should be a criminal offence, according to a survey carried out by Action for Children.

Action for Children is campaigning to close the legislative gap excluding emotional neglect from the criminal definition of child neglect within the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. The charity and Mark Williams, MP for Ceredigion, Wales, have drafted an amendment to the legislation which is due to be debated in Parliament on Friday, 22nd November. Action for Children says that the proposed amendment has the support of MPs from all parties, including 80 who have signed a letter to the Ministry of Justice asking that the alternative law be allowed through to the next Parliamentary stage.

The current legislation on child neglect covers only physical harm. Emotional neglect can include forcing a child to witness domestic violence, scapegoating a child, humiliation and the enforcement of degrading punishments. These forms of abuse, it is said, can have a devastating impact on children's lives, leading to life-long mental health problems and, in some cases, to suicide.

Action for Children's chief executive Dame Clare Tickell said:

"For the vast majority of families where neglect is a concern, support can turn things around and create a safe home in which children can thrive. For cases at the most severe end of the spectrum, however, the law must be in tune with modern considerations of neglect. This is absolutely necessary for a consistent approach from all agencies concerned with child welfare. Action for Children has had very positive discussions with the government about this issue and we're hopeful they will take this urgent and important issue forward."

According to the Department for Education, neglect is the most common reason for a child protection referral and emotional abuse is 20% more common in these referrals than physical abuse. Changing the law would align the definition of neglect used by police and judges to the one currently used by the government and social workers.