Jim CareKnowledge editor Jim Kennedy thinks it's worth focusing on the improvements in child safeguarding highlighted in the NSPCC's recent 'How Safe are Our Children?' report:

Last week’s high-profile report from the NSPCC attracted a fair spread of media attention. The headlines tended to focus on the reported gap between current child protection activity and the total number of children said to be subject to abuse.

I think that’s a great pity, because the report actually has a much more positive story to tell about what is happening in the fight to further improve our safeguarding record.

NSPCC’s report covers the whole of the UK, although on closer reading, some of its conclusions have to be qualified by comments about the different approaches and statistical methods, used across the different parts of the country.

Additional care pressures
The press tended to lead with the report’s assertion that of 520,000 children subject to maltreatment, only 58,000 have child protection plans in place – meaning that only one in nine is covered by such plans. This is the key figure that the report and the press release, deploy, to argue that still more needs to be done to ensure the adequate protection of children.

I can see why focussing on that figure makes sense when we are all aware of wider current gaps in services and when we know of the additional care pressures that have followed (and continue to follow) the Baby P case.

Focus on failure carries risk
However, I think that generating headlines that focus on the possible failings of the current system carries high risks for the future. The furore that surrounded the Baby P case in England completely drowned out any attempt to persuade the public that the UK’s record on child deaths and serious injuries, had almost certainly been improving to that point; and that, in some measure, that might be attributable to the way the child protection – and wider safeguarding approaches – had been operating.

The danger of the publicity around the NSPCC report is that it will leave the public with an impression that evidence of further deterioration has been found, which will be fixed in people’s minds, if and when, something again goes seriously wrong.

It’s also important, I think, to be clear when we are comparing relatively hard fact (gleaned from statistical returns) with national estimates based on surveys.

Overall experience of abuse
Although the report itself, and more detailed commentary, are clearer about this relationship, and about the extrapolation used to arrive at national estimates, the first paragraphs of the press release simply say that “Around 520,000 children are abused or neglected at home each year, but only one in nine are protected by local authorities”

It took me some time to trace the report on which the 520,000, overall experience of abuse, figure is based. It comes from the Society’s 2011 report ‘Child abuse and neglect in the UK today’.

That report was based on “a random probability sample of parents and children, young people and young adults in the UK”, in which ….”household interviews were conducted by a market research company using computer-assisted self-interviewing” . Around 6,000 responses were analysed.

Likelihood of abuse
Now that’s a large sample, and the report’s arguments about validity are well-made, but they remain what they are: evidence of some likelihood of abuse; and national figures drawn from those figures are, further, simply estimates of likely abuse. In any event, it’s just not the case that those figures mean all of the children without plans are inadequately protected. Being on such a plan is only one way in which the system can act to protect children.

And, however, I looked at, and added up the figures in the latest report, I couldn’t quite see where the assertion that “one in five children today have experienced serious physical abuse, sexual abuse or severe physical or emotional neglect” comes from – probably my error, but it’s the kind of core figure that has the habit of sticking and I’d have liked an immediate and snappy explanation of its basis (page 4).

More to offer
I’m sorry to have to make these points because the latest report has much more to offer, than the headline gap to which the publicity has tended to refer. It points to:

• The fall in the child homicide rate across the UK • And in the rate of assaults on children • The emergence of new threats, particularly in children’s interaction with ‘the digital world’ • Evidence that the public is becoming more vigilant, with a large increase in the numbers of people approaching the Society about their concerns • Evidence that when children are referred to social services, they are more likely to receive assessments and be offered support than was the case 5 years ago • Evidence that decision-making ‘drift’ is lessening, and that protection plans are being better managed • Evidence of improved placement stability

And, I think the report’s argument that still more needs to be done, particularly to offer earlier intervention, remains critically important at a time of increasing resource pressure.

Future progress on child protection
It’s also worth accessing the report to see the 19 indicators around which the Society shapes its report and that the Society intends to hold under review, to assess future progress on child protection. The list seems to me to offer a helpful framework – perhaps for wider, or even Governmental – use in keeping a track on this key child care concern.

Indicators discussed include:
• Child homicides • Child mortality • Child suicides • Number of recorded sexual offences against children • Number of recorded cruelty and neglect offences against children • Contacts with ChildLine • Contacts with the NSPCC Adult Helpline • Referrals to social services and assessments • Children in need • Children in the child protection systems • Child protection plans and child protection registers activity • Information on looked after children

For more coverage on the report & the conference which launched it visit: