Num­ber of chil­dren in care for ‘emo­tional abuse’ soars

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Louise Tickle

The num­ber of chil­dren who are put on lo­cal au­thor­ity care plans be­cause their par­ents have been ac­cused of “emo­tional abuse” has soared over the past decade, amid warn­ings that some fam­i­lies are be­ing bro­ken up with­out jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Anal­y­sis of na­tional care statis­tics shows that the use of “emo­tional abuse” as a rea­son for start­ing a child pro­tec­tion plan has in­creased by 164% in just un­der a decade.

In 2016-17, more than 14,000 more chil­dren were started on pro­tec­tion plans be­cause of emo­tional abuse than nine years ago, while 600 more chil­dren were put on pro­tec­tion plans as a re­sult of find­ings of sex­ual abuse, and 750 more be­cause of phys­i­cal abuse.

Andy Bil­son, pro­fes­sor of so­cial work at the Uni­ver­sity of Cen­tral Lan­cashire, who compiled the statis­tics, said the chance of a par­ent be­ing found to have emo­tion­ally abused their child de­pended on where they lived.

“There’s a post­code lot­tery which means chil­dren in some ar­eas of the coun­try are at much higher risk of be­ing taken into care for emo­tional abuse than they are if they live some­where else,” he said.

Sarah Phillimore, a fam­ily bar­ris­ter, said: “Many par­ents who have been sub­ject to child pro­tec­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tions say that emo­tional harm is just so­cial work­ers try­ing to look into crys­tal balls, and chil­dren shouldn’t be taken away when par­ents haven’t ac­tu­ally done them any harm.

“Oth­ers say how­ever that we can’t just leave chil­dren in dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions un­til they suf­fer ac­tual harm and they need to be re­moved once the level of risk is se­ri­ous.”

Phillimore has con­vened a con­fer­ence on the risk of emo­tional abuse, at which Bil­son’s re­search will be dis­cussed to­day. Sup­ported by the Trans­parency Project, a char­ity that aims to make fam­ily law clearer for peo­ple who end up in court, the con­fer­ence will ex­plore whether “risk of emo­tional harm” can be jus­ti­fied as a rea­son for the state to in­ter­vene.

Bil­son’s anal­y­sis found that the coun­cils with the high­est in­creases in find­ings of emo­tional harm were Hack­ney, Hamp­shire, Sefton, Wir­ral and Wolverhampton.

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