Tackling child neglect

Emotional abuse and neglect are the most common reasons for a child or young person to be placed on the child protection register, or to become subject to a Child Protection Plan.

'Lack of parental care' is the most common reason for referral to the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration.

In July 2016 there were 2,723 children on the child protection register, of which 36% had been subjected to emotional abuse and 35% had suffered from neglect.

Of all forms of maltreatment, neglect leads to some of the most profound negative and long-term effects on a child's behaviour, educational achievement, emotional wellbeing, and physical development.

We are prioritising tackling child neglect to prevent more children from suffering its damaging, long-term effects.

Pilot programme

As part of the Child Protection Improvement Programme, in September 2016 the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) established a neglect pilot programme in three local authority areas: Inverclyde, Dundee, and Perth and Kinross.

The pilot programme seeks to support local authorities to improve the help offered to families experiencing multiple pressures where children may be at risk of, or experiencing, neglect. It was developed in response to the findings of the:

  • Brock report, in terms of strenghtening the help available to children and families who are 'vulnerable', 'known' or 'on the radar', while taking into account barriers to early intervention
  • Christie Commission, which recommends an emphasis on prevention and early intervention for both child wellbeing and budgets
  • Daniel review of response to child neglect in Scotland

The pilot programme will promote the sharing of knowledge across education, health and children's services to identify existing areas of good practice, as well as areas where improvements can be made.

Read more about the programme on the CELCIS website.

Changing the law

We will also bring in new legislation to update the provisions in section 12 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937: cruelty to persons under 16.

Updating the 80-year-old law is essential to reflect our modern understanding of the impact of emotional abuse and neglect, as well as physical harm.

In a consultation which ran from August to November 2018 we asked for views on proposals to modernise the criminal offence of child cruelty, set out in section 12 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937, including whether emotional and psychological harm should be included within the scope of the offence.

We also asked for views on whether the definition of a ‘position of trust’ in section 42-45 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 should be extended to cover other positions in which a person is in a position of power, responsibility or influence over a child.

We published an analysis of responses to the consultation in September 2019. 

We are carefully considering the responses to inform next steps in this complex and sensitive area of the law. We plan to undertake further engagement with the third sector and other key stakeholders as we develop and refine the proposals.

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