A common question is whether child abuse is increasing, decreasing or remaining constant. It is difficult to answer this question due to the nature of the statistics used to estimate levels of abuse but in February 2014 the NSPCC looked at how child abuse statistics compared over time.
Official statistics are published annually and reveal the amount of abuse that is recorded by the authorities during the year. This is called the level of the incidence of recorded abuse. You can read the report here.
Leanne Bolan of Jordan’s Solicitors explains further, a rise in the level of abuse being recorded does not necessarily mean a rise in the level of abuse being perpetrated. It means that more abuse is coming to the attention of the authorities.
There may be a number of different reasons for this: improved training would lead to professionals being better at recognising the signs of abuse; a public awareness campaign may lead to more members of the public reporting their concerns; awareness work with children and young people will encourage them to tell someone about what is happening to them or a high profile child abuse case in the media (such as that of Baby P in 2009) often leads to increased referrals and the authorities being more likely to intervene where there are concerns.
The definition of child abuse has also changed over time as society’s attitudes changed. Society recognises the potentially abusive nature of some behaviours, which were previously accepted as “reasonable”. Parental behaviours towards children, that are deemed to be unacceptable, are continually evolving within societies.
Although there is national guidance around child abuse and child protection, it is up to local authorities to decide how they interpret this guidance. The proportion of children on the register can vary considerably between different authorities. This suggests that different areas have different thresholds for recording a child as being at risk. How well multi-agency procedures work within different local authorities may also affect the level of child abuse that is recorded.
While we can not be certain if child abuse is increasing, decreasing or remaining constant we do know that there has been a 42% rise in investigations. In December 2013 Sky News revealed that in some parts of the UK up to one in 20 children are the subject of investigation into abuse or neglect claims.
In 2012/13 English councils launched 127,060 high-level investigations – known as section 47s – into children thought to be at risk. This is a 42.3% increase in cases since 2009/10. In some areas the figure is much higher with the equivalent of 4.5% of children in Blackpool, 2.6% in Doncaster and 2.1% in Peterborough being investigated.
Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, told Sky News that economic pressures were linked to abuse and neglect. He also warned that social services were increasingly struggling to cope. “We have a child protection system and a care system where the work has been increasing year on year for the last five years and I am worried about it.”