Number of children in care for ‘emotional abuse’ soars
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.