Thousands of abused and neglected children invisible to social workers

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Matt Forde, head of NSPCC Scotland, warns many Scots children suffer similar abuse to that of tragic Liam Fee

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6th June 2016 by Paul Cardwell 0 Comments

Up to 8,000 children in Scotland who are abused or neglected are not known to social workers, the head of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Scotland (NSPCC) has warned.

Speaking in reaction to the death of two-year-old Liam Fee and the conviction of his mother and her partner, Matt Forde revealed that for every one of the thousand children placed on the child protection register there are an estimated eight more who are “invisible” to the authorities.

“We’ve all been utterly shocked at what happened to Liam Fee and the two boys he lived with,” Forde said.

“No-one who’s read anything about the case could help but feel outraged.

“Liam’s short life was marked by the most horrendous abuse and neglect, carried out by the very people who were supposed to keep him safe. The suffering he experienced is difficult to comprehend.”

Thousands of abused and neglected children invisible to social workersMatt Forde

Liam’s short life was marked by the most horrendous abuse and neglect. The suffering he experienced is difficult to comprehend.

While calling for Fife Child Protection Services to be allowed time to look at what went wrong, Forde called for the process of reviews following a serious incident to be made more formal and systematic than it currently is.

He said: “Serious case reviews (SCRs), as they are known in England, are done on a more formal and systematic basis than they are here.

“The process is stipulated in statutory guidance, they must be published – indeed the NSPCC is the repository for all SCRs conducted in England – and they are analysed nationally to identify common themes which may point to system reform.

“In Scotland, it’s less structured, with decisions about publication and format being at the discretion of the Child Protection Committee. The potential for learning is therefore more limited.”

The Scottish Government is currently undertaking a major review of the child protection system. Due to report at the end of the year, it will consider many facets of the system – including the SCR process, Child Protection Committees, the Child Protection Register – as well as look at leadership, inspection and the Children's Hearings system. It will also specifically focus on child neglect.

Forde continued: “A child dying at the hands of their parents or carers is a rare occurrence in Scotland. Neglect, however, is less so. Over a thousand children were placed on the child protection register in Scotland last year due to concerns about neglect or emotional abuse.

“There are more children suffering abuse or neglect than those who are known to social workers.

“We estimate that for every child subject to a child protection plan or register in the UK, another eight have suffered maltreatment.

“These children are not visible. How can we help those children living unhappy lives in circumstances which do not meet thresholds for formal intervention?”

It is widely accepted that early intervention is key to prevention. To this effect, progress is being made with 500 more health visitors pledged by the Scottish Government and it has also developed a refreshed approach to ensure children and families see their health visitor more regularly, but more has to be done Forde says.

“To make early intervention a reality we need to invest in infant and maternal mental health. Supporting the parent-child relationship is crucial to giving every child the nurturing and loving foundation they need to grow and to prevent abuse and neglect.

“Tragically, something went horrendously wrong in the relationship between Liam, his mum and Nyomi Fee, with the most devastating of consequences. The two boys who remain, who also suffered horrendous abuse, will need significant support to help them come to terms with their experiences and begin to recover. They need love and stability.

“If Liam's case teaches us anything, it underlines that investing in children and their earliest experiences and relationships is an urgent national priority.”

This article contains excerpts of a guest piece written by Matt Forde. The read the full version click here