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Rise in emotional neglect and abuse referrals prompts call for ‘Cinderella Law’

No evidence that new law will prevent neglect, says ADCS

The NSPCC is experiencing a surge in the number of emotional neglect and emotional abuse cases, including those so serious they require onward referral to the police and children's services.

Helpline staff have assisted over 8,000 people who have contacted the NSPCC about emotional neglect and abuse this year. Of these 5,354 cases were so serious they have been referred to local authorities for further action. This compares to 3629 last year (2012/13).

The figures come as the government considers a change to the law to tackle the emotional neglect and abuse of children. The so called "Cinderella law" would update the 1933 criminal offence of child cruelty to include emotional neglect and abuse as well as physical abuse.

John Cameron, Head of Child Protection Operations, said:

"The government has indicated they are set to outlaw extreme emotional cruelty and this is a positive step forward and the publicity around this and highly publicised cases such as Daniel Pelka may have contributed to the sharp increase in calls.

"We must recognise extreme emotional abuse for what it is – a crime – and those who carry it out should be prosecuted. This isn't about prosecuting parents who don't buy their children the latest gadgets or trainers this is about parents who consistently deny their children love and affection.

"We must ensure we support children's services and that the police are given better powers to prosecute those who subject children to emotional neglect and abuse – that is why the NSPCC supports the proposed changes to the law to tackle this issue. But a law alone is not enough – what we really need to do is work together to prevent this abuse happening in the first place."

However, responding to the campaign by NSPCC and Action for Children for the creation of a "Cinderella law", Alan Wood, President of the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) said:

"Any change to the law must build on existing work to prevent, identify and respond to neglect to ensure that in a time of increasing demand and a greater prevalence, the needs of children are effectively met. Parents who fail to provide the basic level of emotional and physical support for their children do so for a variety of reasons including incapacity, inability, and wickedness but a lack of legislative clarity is not one of those reasons. There is no evidence to suggest a change in the law will prevent further instances of neglect from occurring.

"Public law exists to protect children. Where a child is experiencing or is at risk of 'significant harm', a local authority initiates care proceedings to secure both their immediate and long term safety and well-being. Creating a new criminal offence would not alter the way in which local authorities intervene to protect children. Practitioners are fully aware of the harm caused by emotional neglect and abuse. Emotional abuse is the reason given for nearly a third of child protection plans. This shows that local authorities are acting to keep safe children who are suffering from emotional abuse."