The Progression of Child Abuse and Neglect Legislation

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Child abuse is very much in the news, all over the world. Most of us know what is right and wrong when it comes to children, and what is wrong appals us. In the United Kingdom, legal definitions have some fluidity. Current UK definitions of what constitutes child abuse appear to have widened considerably since the late 1940s and 1950s.

Legislation that enables the prosecution of people accused of child cruelty has been in force since the late 19th century.

1945 saw the first formal child death inquiry in England, into the death of Dennis O’Neill who was killed at the age of 12 by his foster father.

1973 7-year-old Maria Colwell’s death led to the establishment of our modern child protection system.

1984 Several other child deaths, including that of 4-year-old Jasmine Beckford, prompted further further changes.

2000 Victoria Climbié was killed at the age of 8 and her tragic death led to major changes in the way children’s services were structured in England and Wales. These changes were progressively introduced between 2006 and 2008.

2010 A change of government led to a review of the child protection system in England.

2011 A further wave of reforms (led by Eileen Munro) were focused on making the child protection system more child-centred.

Child Abuse – Changing Definitions?

NSPCC Child Protection Factsheet

The NSPCC ‘Child Protection Factsheet’ includes criteria such as providing a child with ‘inappropriate clothing’ as being abusive. Susan’s brother would have been considered to have been abused under this definition. (Retrieved August 2011)

Children Act 1989

In the Children Act 1989, the term ‘significant harm’ replaces the terms ‘child abuse’ and ‘neglect’. Significant harm is defined as ill-treatment or the impairment of the child’s health (mental or physical) or development (physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural) attributable to a lack of adequate parental care or control: section 31.

Crown Prosecution Service

Quoted from the Crown Prosecution Service Website as of 21st November 2011

‘Abuse and neglect are forms of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting, by those known to them or, more rarely, by a stranger. They may be abused by an adult or adults, or another child or children.’

Susan’s Brother

Susan’s brother was born shortly after the inquiry into Denis O’Neill’s death, but that enquiry had little effect on child care services. Much of the population (both civilan and military) was still suffering some degree of disturbance (in the most general sense) as a result of the trauma of war. Children with emotional and other special needs were just lumped together. New ideas about care facilities were emerging (see Epping House)

Fortunately we have moved forward in terms the provision of child care services, but as a society I’m mot so sure we have progressed.

James Marinero
Author