In a recent poll, carried out by Action for Children, it was established that almost 70% of police officers in England and Wales agree that emotional neglect towards a child should be made a criminal offence.
They assert that emotional neglect should be treated the same as physical neglect, as both can be just as damaging and destructive in a child’s life or in later years. It is obvious what physical neglect involves but emotionally it could relate to a number of scenarios. It may include a child being subjected to bullying by a family member, witnessing domestic abuse on another family member, constantly using the child as a scapegoat, humiliating a child in some form or using inappropriate forms of punishment which may leave the child feeling degraded or embarrassed. The list is endless but the outcome can be as devastating as physical neglect.
Emotional neglect may lead to life-long mental health problems and in some cases, suicide. Even in less destructive cases a child may grow up with the inability to cope with every-day life and struggle to form strong and meaningful relationships as a result of what they experienced as a child.
As the law currently stands, the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, excludes emotional neglect within its definition. Various charities, including Action for Children, are fighting to close the gap and provide every child with legal protection.
Draft legislation is due to be debated in Parliament on 22 November 2013. Action for Children has stated that the proposed amendment to include emotional neglect within the definition has the approval of MPs from all parties. It has been claimed that various MPs have even signed a letter to the Ministry of Justice requesting that this amendment is pushed through to the next Parliamentary stage as soon as possible.
A spokesperson for Action for Children has declared that in the majority of cases where neglect is an issue, the right support from local authorities and other organisations can assist in creating a stable and thriving environment for children to develop. Nonetheless, there is still a minority of cases which urgently require the law to change in line with modern times. Not only will a change in the law provide more consistency with the various authorities involved in child welfare but it should also act as a deterrent to those who may think that emotional neglect is not a criminal offence or punishable by any means.