Call for child abuse stats overlooks family set-up

The NSPCC has called on the Home Office to keep better records of sex abuse offences involving children but fails to mention the crucial factor of family background.

The charity wants more comprehensive figures on the ages of victims to be made available, along with any convictions that result from the offences, so that it is better equipped to protect children.

However, there are wider concerns that other crucial details for informing policy in this area, particularly abuse victims’ family backgrounds, are being overlooked.

The NSPCC called for better records as it published police figures showing that children in England and Wales were the victims of sex offences on more than 20,000 occasions last year.

It warned that inadequate record-keeping by the Home Office made it difficult to get a clear picture of the true number of victims.

The charity has called on the Government to collect and publish annual data from police forces showing the number and ages of victims. This should be clearly linked with the number of convictions and other penalties resulting from the recorded offences, it says.

The charity’s Director of Public Policy, Phillip Noyes, said: “If we are able to get these details every year it will start to build a more accurate picture of what is happening and we can make more concerted efforts to protect children.”

But campaigners point to research showing that a child is at greater risk of abuse in a broken home compared to a child living with two married parents.

Government figures fail to record the family type of abuse victims, despite the fact that such information could help shape policies which support married families and therefore reduce the likelihood of abuse taking place.

Before the Government took over the role of collecting such information in the 1990s, the NSPCC itself carried out the work, and did include family type in its records.

But it failed to put married families in a separate category, instead grouping them together with families where the parents are unmarried.

Now, the Government keeps information about abuse victims by age, sex, type of abuse, area and ethnicity, but family type is no longer included.

There are concerns that political correctness and a fear of criticising broken families have led to these figures being suppressed.

Following the tragic death of “Baby P” at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend, the NSPCC last year issued a number of recommendations “to ensure all children are better protected in the future”.

However, these recommendations failed to mention the gathering of abuse statistics by family type, and the influence such information could have on future public policy relating to the family.

Writing at the time, Conservative MP and head of the Centre for Social Justice think-tank Iain Duncan Smith said a public inquiry was needed.

But he warned that “all of this deals with the symptoms rather than the cause.

“Dysfunctional family life lies at the heart of the problem.”

Journalist and commentator Melanie Phillips has described the link between family breakdown and abuse as a “buried truth”.

Referring to a report clearly linking abuse to family breakdown, she wrote on her Spectator blog: “Very similar findings were reported in Britain some two decades ago. The evidence that shattered or reconstituted families pose vastly greater risks to children than traditional two-parent families has always been overwhelming.

“But in Britain, the government simply stopped collecting statistics that broke down families by type which enabled researchers to compare violence and other ill-effects in different types of household.

“This blurred the distinction between parents and parent-substitutes, and enabled the lie to be told that children were in more danger from their parents than from strangers.

“The truth is that natural parents provide the greatest safety for children, and it is the reconstituted family which poses the greatest danger. The deliberate concealment of that truth has been used to justify the breakdown of family life whose catastrophic ill-effects are only now beginning to be acknowledged.”

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