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Friday, 03 March 2017

New Scots law planned to criminalise emotional abuse and neglect of children

Written by The Press Association

The Scottish Government is to bring forward a new law to criminalise the emotional abuse and neglect of children.

Childcare and Early Years Minister Mark McDonald announced the move in response to the publication of two reports on child protection.

Mr McDonald told MSPs at Holyrood that the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 would be updated to recognise the impact of emotional abuse and neglect, as well as physical harm.

It follows the findings of a review of the child protection system led by independent chair Catherine Dyer and the publication of the Government's child protection improvement programme report.

Mr McDonald said: "This Government is determined to ensure more of Scotland's children get the best possible start in life. This means protecting the most vulnerable in our communities from harm, abuse and neglect.

"Catherine Dyer's review concludes that in general, our child protection system works well. However, both she and the child protection improvement programme report have identified opportunities to strengthen all aspects of the system to better protect our children.

"I have accepted all of these recommendations in full and set out how they will be implemented swiftly and effectively.

"Importantly, we will introduce new legislation to make the emotional abuse and neglect of children a criminal offence, updating an 80-year old law whose archaic language has resulted in difficulties prosecuting offences."

The review was asked to consider whether statutory underpinning was required for aspects of the child protection system, but it recommended a range of other action before moving to legislate.

Mr McDonald added: "I have made clear where I expect to see improvements in Scotland's child protection system, particularly in relation to consistency of approach.

"If in a year's time there is little evidence of real and substantial progress then I will not hesitate to bring forward legislation to provide an appropriate statutory underpinning."

The Government will also p ublish a national child protection policy identifying all the responsibilities and actions across government which are aimed at supporting families and protecting children, and explore how best to establish a national child protection register to better protect young people on local registers who move to a new area.

National standards will be drawn up for those carrying out significant case reviews, while the role of the Care Inspectorate will be expanded to analyse their findings.

Mr McDonald also announced plans to set up and chair a n ational child protection leadership group.

Labour MSP Iain Gray said the party would welcome any progress towards protecting children but raised concerns about the speed of "what has been quite a lengthy process".

Mr McDonald told him: "I do have expectations around the pace of improvement I expect to see."

Another Labour MSP, Monica Lennon, spoke of the importance of early intervention to prevent children coming to harm.

"What assurances can the minister give today that social workers and all other practitioners involved in the protection of children at that crucial early intervention stage will be able to access the resources they need to do their jobs?," she asked.

The minister said work by Audit Scotland shows there have been real terms increases in spending in relation to social work, while figures from the Scottish Social Services Council show the number of social workers in children's services has increased from 5,550 to 5,960 from 2012 to 2015.

Raising the issue of human trafficking, Conservative MSP Miles Briggs said: "Figures published by the Scottish Guardianship Service highlighted that 40% of the 262 unaccompanied children it has registered since 2011 were brought to Scotland by traffickers.

"Nine children were trafficked in 2011, this rose to 32 in 2015. There's clearly a worrying trend emerging and, whilst we welcome today's statement, what specific measures will be included in the draft human trafficking strategy regarding children in light of these figures?"

Mr McDonald said the Government has a zero-tolerance approach towards trafficking and is raising awareness of the services available to such victims.

Lib Dem Sheila Thomson said: "Scottish Liberal Democrats welcome the news that the Scottish Government will take on board a number of recommendations to better protect children and young people.

"However, we need assurances from ministers that this range of initiatives will be funded properly. They also must be delivered in a way that won't risk diverting talented and experienced social workers away from front-line care work."

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