Criminalising emotional neglect could see disabled parents lose children

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Campaigners have highlighted the importance of providing support for parents with learning disabilities before making emotional neglect a crime

31st May 2018 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Plans to make emotional neglect a crime could criminalise those with learning disabilities - and see them losing their children, campaigners have warned.

The Scottish Government has highlighted tackling emotional abuse and neglect of children as a priority, and is examining making changes to legislation to make emotional neglect a crime.

However the People First (Scotland) Parents’ Group - a self-advocacy group of parents with learning disabilities – has highlighted the importance of providing support for parents with learning disabilities before making changes to the law.

The group has prepared a statement - backed by representatives from other organisations including Firsthand Lothian, Aberlour, Engender and the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance - which asks for any updated law to include provisions that make sure adequate support is provided for parents with disabilities and that parents aren’t inadvertently criminalised.

The statement said: “We know that the Scottish Government wants to change the law on neglect and make emotional neglect a crime. We agree that both physical and emotional neglect of children is very serious.

“Children should never be ill-treated. But we are worried that if this change in the law happens we could also be charged with a crime of neglect when we don’t get the support we need.

“We do not think it is fair to make the crime of neglect wider until the Scottish Government and local authorities can guarantee that we will be offered the right sort of ongoing support as set out in the law, policies and guidance. We have been waiting long enough for these to be put into practice.”

Research has found that up to 60% of parents with learning disabilities have their children removed, often due to claims of lack of parental care or neglect. The group has stressed that people with disabilities should be given the support to ensure that the needs of their children are met.

A consultation on amendments to the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act is set to be launched soon, with the Scottish Government highlighting the need to revise the 80-year old law to address the high numbers of children subjected to emotional abuse and neglect.

It’s understood that particular focus will be given to how the government can ensure that children are protected from emotional harm and neglect, with views set to be sought from experts on how to avoid unintentionally criminalising parents with disabilities.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “People with learning disabilities have the same rights to family life as anyone else and supporting parents plays a crucial role in making those rights real.

“Our ambition is for Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up and to achieve this it is essential that all parents receive the help they need so that their children can enjoy the best start in life.

“That is why offering families the support they need at the time they need it is a critical part of our Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) strategy and we have worked with stakeholders to refresh the good practice guidelines for supporting parents with learning disabilities.”

The full statement and details on how to support the campaign are available on the People First Scotland website.