The NSPCC’s Helpline hears from concerned adults every day and night of the week with troubling reports of child neglect ranging from children being left unsupervised or with inadequate clothing, to being screamed at or living amongst mouldy food and animal faeces. These calls led to 1,486 referrals to police, child protection agencies and local authorities in the South West of England.
To raise awareness of child neglect – the most common type of abuse affecting children in the UK – the NSPCC has launched its ‘Light For Every Childhood’ Christmas Appeal.
In 2017/18 the Helpline dealt with 19,937 calls and emails about child neglect – a third of all contacts to the NSPCC – with hundreds happening during the 12 days of Christmas.
During the festive period, extended family members often get in touch with the NSPCC after spending more time with a young relative and becoming concerned for the child’s welfare.
The NSPCC Christmas Appeal is calling for donations to the NSPCC Helpline – which is open throughout the holidays – so they can answer more calls and help children suffering neglect both at Christmas and all year round.
One relative got in touch with the Helpline after visiting distant family over the Christmas period with concerns about a parent letting her young children get drunk and take drugs.
The caller said: “Over Christmas, I spent time with my family and what I witnessed was really worrying. I learnt that the children have been left home alone on various occasions, and have also been allowed to get drunk and take drugs. They also have mental health problems. I think the whole family needs additional support.”
Three quarters (73%) of cases involving neglect reported to the NSPCC Helpline, a service run by child protection professionals, including social workers, teachers and health specialists, were serious enough to be referred to children services and the police for further investigation.
Often more than one child was the subject of a referral, making the actual number of those referred far higher.
Tom (name changed) from North Devon was neglected by his parents for about 10 years before he escaped his family home at the age of 16.
He said: “I would get up in the morning, and wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom nor any cleaning or washing facilities before getting ready for school. I wasn’t allowed any breakfast in the morning unless I’d been ‘good’. ‘Good’ was basically say nothing, talk to no one, do nothing.”
Now 48, the father-of-two wants to encourage others to speak out after he felt he couldn’t. He was regularly punished and threatened by his parents.
He added: “As a child, it’s a very grave threat, being sent away and rejected. That’s something my father had always told me, that I wasn’t planned, not wanted.
“But I don’t think that was the reason for the abuse. For them, parenting was simply ownership – an oppression. There appeared to be pleasure in treating me like this.”
Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC said: “Neglect doesn’t stop because it is Christmas, the holidays can, in fact, magnify problems because children are cut-off from the wider community and their support network.
“While it is positive that people are being vigilant and reporting concerns of children suffering neglect rather than standing by, it is still deeply worrying to see that neglect continues to be the most common reason for contacting the NSPCC Helpline.
“This is why we are appealing to the generous nature of the public to support our Light For Every Childhood Christmas Appeal to help us be there for even more young people in need.”
Neglect happens when a child’s basic needs are not being met and can be down to several reasons ranging from parents not having the skills, support or funds, to having mental health issues.
It can cause deep-rooted and lifelong physical and psychological harm for a child. At its worst neglect can lead to a child suffering permanent disabilities, or prove fatal.
Just £5 pays for the Helpline to answer a call about child neglect, to donate visit the NSPCC website.
Adults concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC Helpline seven days a week on 0808 800 5000, or email email@example.com