New figures from NSPCC Scotland show that calls to its helpline from adults concerned about a child rose by 30 per cent last year, with a 44.5 per cent increase in referrals made to social work services or police in Scotland. Of the 1,920 contacts from people in Scotland, around 60 per cent were sufficiently serious to merit a referral to police or social services. A total of 1,166 referrals were made in 2012/13, involving 1,807 children in Scotland.
Matt Forde, National Head of Service for NSPCC Scotland, said that while it was ‘encouraging’ that so many people were prepared to take steps to help vulnerable children and families, a brief hesitation could feel like ‘a lifetime’ for a child suffering abuse or neglect. “These figures demonstrate very clearly,” he explained, “the important role of the NSPCC helpline in identifying families and children in need of support in Scotland. Without the willingness of friends, families and communities to take action, children affected by abuse and neglect might never enjoy the childhood they deserve.
“Last year, the majority of those whose contacts resulted in a referral were members of the public (59%). Given the need for each and every one of us to take responsibility for child protection, this is certainly heartening. We would urge anyone with concerns to reach out immediately, and it’s important to understand that if you are mistaken, a family will not be separated. Trained and experienced child protection practitioners will tactfully investigate before any action is taken. You can’t be expected to know for certain and that’s where the NSPCC can help.”
Video of Matt Forde discussing the latest figures
Neglect was the leading cause for referrals in Scotland in 2012/13 – 46 per cent, with physical abuse and sexual abuse also reported as significant concerns. One member of the public who called from Scotland last year described concerns about a young child, saying that the woman “yanked the young girl by her hair and punched her in the head twice. The girl was crying and screaming and the woman just pushed her away.”
Another, a neighbour of a teenage boy, expressed fears for his wellbeing: “He’s terrified of his mother. She punches him and kicks him.”**
Matt continued: “It’s vital that we move away from the sense that picking up the phone or reporting concerns online is ‘telling tales’, when in fact it’s potentially saving a child from abuse. Of course no one wants to make a mistake that would harm a child or family, however these fears can be problematic if they become a barrier to helping someone who’s incredibly vulnerable and just needs someone to be brave enough to speak out.
“The helpline isn’t just for reporting concerns, it’s also there for anyone who feels they could do with some advice or support. Last year a third of advice contacts came from parents and carers, with a further 20 per cent from other relatives. We’re there to offer help and guidance on how to look after a child’s welfare, on everything from teaching them internet safety to supporting parents who are finding it extremely difficult to cope with the demands of their parenting role. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or send an email – we’re here to help.”
Anyone worried about a child, or in need of support, can contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, text 88858 or email [email protected] 24/7. Calls can be anonymous.