Keeping our eyes open for child suffering

Child web

Anne Houston urges us to be alert for at risk children in our communities during the school holidays

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2nd July 2018 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

School holidays are traditionally thought of as a time for children and  young people to have more freedom, time to play, be with their friends and maybe go on a family holiday – all good stuff. Many of us think back to our own childhoods when it always seemed to be sunny, long light nights and fun times. Halcion days, but perhaps viewed through rose-tinted lenses.

We know that for many children, young people and families holiday time can actually be very stressful. Parents worry about what’s happening at home when they’re at work while the children are at home with no-one looking after them. Then there’s the endless requests for cash for activities and treats, or wondering what the children are actually getting up to - have they unglued themselves from their gizmos at all during the day?

Anne Houston OBE

Anne Houston OBE

I’m encouraging everyone to keep their eyes open for the children and young people who may need someone to notice that things are not alright

For some families there’s need all year round – conflict and problematic relationships, hard pressed finances, stress, pressure and no chance of a break.

‘It’s everyone’s job to make sure I’m alright’ was the title of some research that was done around 16 years ago into what children and young people thought about the child protection system. They wanted adults in their communities as well as, or sometimes instead of, professionals to be there for them when they were are at risk or vulnerable and needing help or support. And for some youngsters, life is not always that easy during school holidays.

At Child Protection Committees Scotland part of our remit is to raise public awareness of what they can do to help keep Scotland’s children safe, and for the holiday period we decided to encourage a collective watchful role through promotion of a national “Eyes Open” media campaign.

The public’s role is so very important. Professionals do excellent work to protect many thousands of children and young people every year in Scotland. We are constantly striving to improve how children are supported and protected and to find ways to do this as early as possible hence preventing things from becoming so serious. But we can’t and shouldn’t try to do it alone.

It’s someone in the child’s local community who is likely to be close enough to notice when something just doesn’t seem right. It’s these people who are more likely to notice  when a child is constantly dirty and hungry, is out at all times of day and night, is avoiding going home, is sad and quiet or alternatively acting out in a risky way, has unexplained injuries or bruises – or there’s something different enough about their behaviour that it  makes them concerned.

So along with my colleagues at CPCScotland, I’m encouraging everyone to keep their eyes open for the children and young people who may need someone to notice that things are not alright. We also want you to know what to do when you sense something’s wrong. Depending on how bad things are you could offer support directly - offer to babysit or help with the shopping - but you can and should contact the police on 101 (or 999 if it’s urgent) or your local authority’s social work department if you are concerned.

The important thing is to do something – talk to someone about your concerns, take some action. Don’t worry that you’re overreacting – surely it’s better to be wrong if things are OK than not to do anything for a child who might be at real risk.

Anne Houston OBE is Chair of Child Protection Committees Scotland