80-year old archaic law to be update to make prosecutions easier
A new law is to be introduced that will make it a criminal offence to emotionally abuse and neglect a child.
Children’s charities have welcomed the news that the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 is to be updated to recognise the impact of emotional abuse and neglect, as well as physical harm.
NSPCC Scotland said the law was “vital”, reporting it has seen an increase of 61% over the past three years from people concerned that a child was being neglected.
In a statement to parliament, minister for childcare and early years Mark McDonald confirmed the move as part of a range of actions to strengthen child protection following the publication of reports by the Child Protection Systems Review Group led by independent chair Catherine Dyer and the government’s own child protection improvement programme report.
“This government is determined to ensure more of Scotland’s children get the best possible start in life,” he said. “This means protecting the most vulnerable in our communities from harm, abuse and neglect.
“Catherine Dyer’s review concludes that, in general, our child protection system works well. However, both she and the child protection improvement programme report have identified opportunities to strengthen all aspects of the system to better protect our children.
“I have accepted all of these recommendations in full and set out how they will be implemented swiftly and effectively.
“Importantly, we will introduce new legislation to make the emotional abuse and neglect of children a criminal offence, updating an 80-year old law whose archaic language has resulted in difficulties prosecuting offences.”
Matt Forde, national head for NSPCC Scotland, said: “It’s vital that the law is updated to reflect the reality of neglect and the huge harm children suffer through the failure to meet their physical and emotional needs.
“Neglect is the most common form of child abuse and our NSPCC helpline has reported a 61% increase over three years in calls from people concerned that a child was being neglected.
“Neglect is dangerous and children who are victims of this form of abuse can suffer the devastating consequences throughout their lives.”
As well as the new offence, the government will publish a national child protection policy which identifies all responsibilities and action across government to support families and protect children.
It will look creating a National Child Protection register and create national standards for those carrying out significant case reviews.
Children in Scotland chief executive Jackie Brock commended the Scottish Government for recognising the need to strengthen child protection systems and services but warned their effectiveness relies on investment and support within local communities and called on it to address UK government cuts.
“Evidence is clear that families living in poverty are far more likely to have their children removed from them than those who are better off,” she added.
“Scotland's child protection system, therefore, must be underpinned by a strong focus on tackling poverty and supporting local children's services.
"With this in mind, we continue to be deeply concerned by the UK government's attacks on our benefits system and the cuts facing local authorities and their partners.”