The law on child neglect is 80 years old
Neglect is the most common form of child abuse, affecting as many as 1 in 10 children.
Yet the law on child neglect is out of date.
It doesn’t cover emotional neglect, which we now know is hugely damaging to children's development. It does contain confusing language that stops police officers and social workers from working together to respond early to the signs of neglect.
Why does the law need updating?
- The law excludes emotional and developmental neglect which are now known to be hugely damaging to the development of children.
- The wording of the criminal offence stems from 1868. Its terminology is out-dated and confusing, creating difficulties for police officers and social workers to use the criminal law to respond to neglect when it is appropriate.
- The criminal law definition of neglect is substantially different to that contained in the Children Act and related guidance. This results in further difficulties for agencies in preventing and responding to neglect collectively.
- The term 'wilful' creates substantial difficulties for the police in pursuing cases of child neglect. It is an antiquated term no longer used in modern law.
See the full case for reform and read the independent advisory group's report and proposal for reform
Reforming the law is only one of many things we want to achieve to improve the way child neglect is tackled. Action for Children provides services that intervene directly with families to address neglect. We also campaign to improve local and national policies, as well as raising awareness and funds to tackle neglect.
What is Action for Children doing to change the criminal law on child neglect?
Together with criminal and civil law experts we have drafted an alternative to section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. This alternative offence provides an unambiguous definition of neglect and clarifies the threshold for criminal neglect and abuse. Read our proposed alternative offence.
We are working with an independent advisory group, chaired by Oxford academic Laura Hoyano, and composed of social workers, police officers, lawyers, academics and representatives from the voluntary sector to identify the issues, analyse the impact of the current law and discuss and debate our proposed reforms. Read the independent advisory group's report.
To make sure we get the reform of the law right, we have been conducting interviews and focus groups with police officers, social workers to understand all the problems the current criminal law creates for those working with vulnerable children and how best to resolve them.
What can you do to help?
- Email your MP and ask them to update the law on child neglect
- Read the independent advisory group's analysis and proposal for reform
- Tell us what you think: We would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on our campaign and proposed alternative offence, particularly if you are a professional working to tackle neglect.
- Keep updated: If you want us to keep you updated on the campaign, and what else you can do to help, sign up for updates.
- Donate: Support Action for Children in campaigning to improve the lives of vulnerable children in the UK.