Better protection for children is now law

Posted by Shelley Hopkinson / Friday 06 March 2015 / Child neglect Law Emotional neglect

This week something important happened. The Serious Crime Act became law.

For the first time in over 80 years the criminal law protecting children in England and Wales will recognise sustained emotional abuse, which causes psychological harm, as a crime.

Together we’ve been campaigning for this change for almost four years. It’s been a journey and it’s thanks to every Action for Children supporter that this has happened. We’ve had help from some particularly brave people, Tina and Collette, who shared their stories about their own experiences of emotional abuse and the impact this has had on their lives.

There was a time when the Government didn’t recognise the need to update the criminal law in this area. All law is complex and that’s the reason why it has to constantly be reviewed. But with the support of some fantastic law professionals and experts in child protection, we have been able to build a strong case using robust evidence. This collective effort has allowed us to work with the Government to ensure that this part of the law is protecting children as well as it possibly can.

Many MPs and Peers from across the political parties have joined us in recognising the importance of a criminal law that fully protects children, and helped us push for this change.

Our proposal to change the law started as a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons. Like most such Bills it wasn’t able to progress very far, but it was a crucial step to put this issue on the political agenda. We didn’t give up and, with the help of thousands of our supporters and staff across the country voicing their concerns, we were able to persuade the Government to introduce the changes.

Last year the Queen announced this in her address to Parliament. That doesn’t happen every day. Since then, we’ve been working hard with MPs and the Government to strengthen the wording of the child cruelty offence.

Sadly there are some cases of neglect which do require children to be protected by the criminal law. 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.

The criminal law protecting children from emotional abuse is now clearer. We’re going to keep working hard to ensure that the police and child protection professionals have clear guidance to help them work effectively under the new legal framework.

Updating the criminal law is just one, crucial, step towards keeping children safer from neglect. We will continue to focus on making sure our child protection systems are effective at tackling neglect early.

This is a fantastic achievement and one of which we should all be very proud.

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