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Mark Williams calls on Commons to update law to protect most vulnerable children

June 19, 2013 5:03 PM

Mark Williams, MP for Ceredigion, has called for an overhaul of the UK's 80-year-old child neglect law - which does not even include the UK Government's own definition of neglect[i] - in the House of Commons today (19 June).

Mr Williams is leading a Private Members Bill in Westminster to propose alternative legislation, drafted by charity Action for Children-Gweithredu dros Blant and a panel of senior legal and academic experts, which would more effectively protect children in the most serious cases of neglect.

Child neglect is the most common form of abuse in the UK, with research citing it as a major reason for almost 50 per cent of children being made subject to Child Protection Plans.[ii]

Commenting, Mark Williams MP said:

"I've heard a number of harrowing tales since joining Action for Children's neglect campaign - like the boy who was refused any form of affection, persistently criticised and told he was hated. He regularly wet his bed and it was left, uncleaned, until maggots were found in the mattress. This isn't considered a crime in the UK today. This has to change.

"Experts suggest psychological neglect is the most destructive form of abuse, yet the police are powerless to intervene in cases of such obvious cruelty. There are many worthy causes brought before Parliament, but surely the protection of the most vulnerable children in our society must be of the highest priority."

The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 only covers physical harm and does not recognise emotional or psychological neglect - such as ongoing humiliation, refusal to speak to a child or isolation and scapegoating - as a criminal offence. This is at odds with the modern understanding of neglect and the definition within the civil law, which social workers and family courts are required to use.[iii]

The 80-year-old law is based on the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1868, which was passed in response to a sect, called the Peculiar People, who denied sick children medical attention preferring to treat illnesses with prayer. It still uses antiquated terms that are unhelpful for those dealing with child protection cases, such as 'unnecessary suffering.'

Action for Children-Gweithredu dros Blant's Director of Children's Services, Jan Leightley, added:

"Action for Children has long been leading the campaign to update the law on child neglect - and, thanks to Mark Williams MP, today the UK Government has been handed a unique opportunity to make our current law fit for purpose.

"The criminal law on child neglect is only appropriate for use in the most severe cases of child neglect, where all efforts have been made to help parents and carers make changes and to keep families together. Sadly however, we know that in a small number of cases there are parents who intend to harm their children - and the current law fails to protect children from the full range of that harm."

In addition to campaigning for a change in the criminal law, Action for Children-Gweithredu dros Blant has also been campaigning for the new Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill, currently being considered by the National Assembly for Wales, to do more to tackle child neglect by making sure effective, early help is available for children and families.

The charity is also working in partnership with NSPCC Cymru to deliver the Welsh Child Neglect Project, commissioned by the Welsh Government. This project will scope existing practice in Wales and build upon these findings to deliver recommendations and resources to improve multi-agency responses and services to address child neglect.

The proposed amendment to the criminal law on child neglect is due to be discussed in the House of Commons on 12 July. To email your MP and ask them to update the law on child neglect, please visit the Action for Children-Gweithredu dros Blant website on http://bit.ly/neglectlaw.