Needing a helping hand: There has been a steep rise in the number of children showing signs of neglect in Scotland.
Most Scottish children have witnessed signs of neglect in their classmates, a new survey has revealed as a leading charity warns that public spending cuts may hit essential services for vulnerable young people.
A poll of more than 250 eight to 12-year-olds found most were aware of problems with their peers, and 55% identified telltale signs in someone they knew.
Charity Action for Children said the findings blew the lid on the prevalence of child neglect in Scotland, less than one month after official figures showed a steep rise in cases referred to authorities.
Young people were asked confidentially whether they knew anyone who regularly turned up at school dirty, or who said they did not get meals at home. Other signs of child neglect include people whose clothes don’t fit, are old or unwashed, or smell. Children with no friends at home or whose parents don’t know what they’re doing in their free time may also be at risk.
The 253 children surveyed each knew an average of three people who fitted the bill for neglect. Though the survey does not arrive at any figure for the number of children who are neglected themselves, it shows that friends and classmates of those affected are aware of the problems from a very early age.
The Action for Children poll comes on the back of official figures, published last month, which record a 6% year-on-year increase in the number of child protection referrals in Scotland between 2008/09 and 2009/10. There were 13,523 in the past year, the Scottish Government said – equivalent to 37 every day.
Of these, 421 were flagged up as risk cases before they were even born, largely because their parents were drug addicts or their siblings had already been subject to neglect.
Sexual abuse cases were up by 12%, and emotional abuse by 4%. In the vast majority of cases (84%), the primary known or suspected abuser was the child’s natural parents.
Action for Children warned that around one in 10 children in the UK experiences neglect at some point, and neglect is the main reason for children to need protection plans.
Young people affected are likely to be dirty, smelly, lonely and hungry, the charity said, and they may experience bullying from classmates who spot their vulnerability.
Louise Warde Hunter, Action for Children’s strategic director in Scotland, said the country faced an uphill struggle to nip neglect in the bud before it ruined more lives.
“Child neglect is a real danger if it is not tackled early on. It’s worrying that children as young as eight are spotting these issues in other children, confirming our fears that child neglect remains a widespread issue,” she said.
“We must raise awareness and make sure that the resources are there to help children as early as possible to tackle child neglect and prevent it from cascading down generations.”
The charity was concerned that with the Comprehensive Spending Review due just one week from today, budgets for essential child protection services could be cut across the UK. It is urging politicians of all parties to ensure that these issues are prioritised.
The Herald revealed last month that teachers in Glasgow were struggling to overcome a catalogue of social issues in some of the city’s most impoverished areas.
In one east end P7 class, 21 pupils out of 24 were identified as having additional needs, ranging from parents with drug and alcohol problems to having to cope with domestic violence.
A parenting programme already piloted in five Glasgow schools was due to be rolled out across the city to tackle the problems preventing these children from getting an education.
‘I just felt embarrassed about my life’
Rosie, from Central Scotland, was flagged up to authorities last year after teachers noticed her erratic attendance at school.
A Children’s Hearing exposed a bleak picture of her and her two sisters’ grim existence. They were dirty, underweight, and lived in a filthy house. The three girls also had problems with gum and tooth decay.
Though Rosie was only eight, her mum forced her to carry out household chores and bring up her younger siblings.
The final straw came when Rosie’s mum was alleged to have beaten her. Social workers became involved, and the three girls were placed in foster care.
Action for Children assessed the mother’s capacity to parent children, and on the strength of their findings Rosie and her sisters were adopted. All three are now thriving.
Other young people spend far longer in the shadow of neglect.
Jane, 18, from Glasgow, lives with her mother and father, both of whom are drug addicts.
Jane said: “I was bullied at school; mostly by people saying my mum was a smack head.
“I feel embarrassed about my life and haven’t really thought about it as neglect until now.”
“It was hard bringing any pals home because of the state of the house and my mum and dad. I can also remember getting a bike one Christmas, which my dad had stolen from another family.”
Jane now discusses her problems with an Action for Children key worker, and is learning the skills that will enable to lead her own life.
By Chris Watt
Source: The Herald