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How safe are our children? 2017

This year’s How safe are our children? report puts into sharp focus the fight for every childhood. There’s no doubt we are seeing more work being done to keep children safe from harm than ever before. But is it enough?

Social workers are working with more and more children on child protection plans and registers to help keep them safe; police officers are investigating more suspected cases of child abuse than ever before; and more members of the public are calling our helpline for advice or to report a concern about a child.

But we’re often fighting with our eyes blinkered because we don’t know how many children have been abused, so it’s impossible to know if we’re doing enough. While this report sets out the best and latest of the evidence available, it cannot answer these crucial questions. That is why we are calling on the UK Government to launch a new study to assess the extent of child abuse and neglect.

In the UK we understand more about abuse and we’re taking more action to stop it The data reported here demonstrates that police, social services and the public are all doing more to try to keep children safe.

Increased understanding of abuse Awareness of the different types of abuse and how to spot abuse is the first step in ensuring that effective action can be taken to make children safe. We have identified some encouraging trends which indicate a greater understanding of abuse among both the public and people who work with children.

As a society we often talk about physical and sexual abuse, but evidence shows that the impact of emotional abuse or neglect can have at least as significant an impact on children. And in recent years there has been an increase in emotional abuse as a reason for a child being on a child protection plan or register in England (up from 23 per cent of all plans in 2006 to 35 per cent in 2016) and Wales (up from 19 per cent of all children on a register in 2006 to 34 per cent in 2016).

The increase in the number of children on child protection plans and registers for emotional abuse in England and Wales could reflect increased awareness of the importance of stepping in in these cases. And it’s not just professionals who work with children who understand this. The number of times members of the public contacted the NSPCC helpline about emotional abuse increased from 5,878 contacts in 2011/12 to 10,009 in 2016/17. This is a 70 per cent increase in the last five years, the largest increase of any abuse type.

There are indications that the public also has a better understanding of some of the ways we can prevent abuse. Our opinion survey has found an increase in the number of people who believe that doing more to improve health services (up from 24 per cent in 2013 to 27 per cent in 2016) and providing better support for parents in abusive relationships (up from 20 per cent in 2013 to 25 per cent in 2016) would help tackle abuse and neglect.

The survey also found that the public are more likely to believe that child abuse and neglect can be prevented (increased from 47 per cent in 2013 to 56 per cent in 2016). Belief that abuse can be prevented is a crucial first step to taking action. And this is borne out by an increase in contacts to the NSPCC helpline. This year we responded to our highest ever number of contacts – over 66,000. The public do seem to be more willing to report concerns about abuse. This is critical, as it lets professionals know where to find children who may need help.