Serious Crime Bill Update

Last year the Government listened to our calls and introduced changes in the Serious Crime Bill which will make it a crime to cause a child severe psychological suffering. Before now, Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act hadn't been updated since 1933, that's over 80 years ago. Our understanding of the damage caused to children by non-physical abuse has developed significantly and we're pleased that the law has been strengthened to reflect this and to protect children from all forms of abuse.

Sadly, as many as 1.5million children are believed to suffer from neglect across the UK. In the vast majority of cases families can be supported to improve their parenting with help from charities like Action for Children. However, the law needs to recognise severe forms of emotional abuse which can have a devastating impact on children.

We've been working closely with MPs and Peers as the Serious Crime Bill makes its way through both Houses of Parliament. We want to make sure the language in this part of the law is fit for purpose so that all professionals, including the police and social workers, are able to understand it and work together to protect children with confidence.

The new offence captures only extreme cases of abuse. It is not intended to criminalise vulnerable parents or carers including those who do not have the capacity to change their behaviour. Agencies must always strive to work in a child’s best interest which usually requires strenuous efforts to keep families together.

Some additional changes have been made to make sure that the law recognises that harm is not only physical. Ill treatment can now  include constantly isolating a child or forcing them to suffer degrading punishments. Improvements have also been made so that prohibited drugs are taken into account where an infant has been suffocated whilst sleeping next to their parent or carer.

The Bill is now in its end stages and both the House of Commons and the House of Lords will need to agree that they are happy with the final wording.

We've worked hard, with lots of support, to make the technical changes to the law so that everyone is protecting children under a clear and common framework. Now we need to ensure that all professionals fully understand the law and are able to apply it consistently. Action for Children will continue to work with the Government and others to push for updated guidance and training around some of the legal definitions which professionals have told us can be confusing and which can stop them working effectively together.

The Serious Crime Bill should soon receive Royal Assent which will make it an Act of Parliament. Updating the criminal law to include all forms of abuse is just one, crucial, step towards addressing the wider issue of child neglect. We want the Government to produce a national strategy to enable better joined up working to help neglected children and their families as soon as problems arise. Updating the criminal law is a fantastic achievement, but the hard work isn't over.

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