The number of child cruelty and neglect cases recorded by Devon and Cornwall Police has seen a sharp 15 per cent rise in three years, the NSPCC revealed today.
One 14-year-old told ChildLine his parents hit him if he asks for food: “Sometimes I feel like eating pet food because it’s all there is in the house.”
And another 13-year-old admitted he steals food from other children’s packed lunch boxes because his mum goes to the pub every weekend and there is only cereal for him and his brother to eat at home.
Neglect featured in six out of ten Serious Case Reviews. undertaken when a child dies or is seriously injured or abused.
The NSPCC annual child protection review – How Safe are our children – shows 78 local offences in 2012/13. The number then fell to 70 in 2013/14, but jumped back up to 90 in 2014/15 – reflecting a 29per cent increase within a year across the Devon and Cornwall policing patch
In England in the last 10 years, the figure went up by a massive 75per cent from 4,855 in 2005/06 to 8,506 offences in 2014/15.
The huge increase in cases was also reflected in the number of calls made to the NSPCC helpline – 16,000 nationally last year.
One 14-year-old boy who called the NSPCC’s ChildLine service said: “I know it sounds disgusting but sometimes I feel like eating pet food because it’s all there is in the house. But I just drink water to make me feel full- up instead. My teacher has asked why I’m dressed in dirty clothes and why I never have any lunch money and I don’t know what to say. I feel angry at my parents because they don’t seem to care how miserable it’s making me. If I ask them for anything they become really angry and hit me. Sometimes I feel killing myself will be the only way out.”
Another 13-year-old told how he was forced to steal because he was so hungry: “My mum goes out every weekend to the pub. She doesn’t seem to care about me or my brother. There is never any food at home and when we ask for something to eat she gives us cereal. I’m always feeling tired and can’t concentrate – I only ever think about food when I’m at school. Sometimes I steal packed lunches from the other kids because I know I probably won’t get anything at home. I don’t know if my life will ever change but I can’t live like this anymore.”
Adults called ChildLine with fears about children who were starving and dirty, or about young people who lived in rat-infested homes, while other contacts reported parents who were drunk or left their children to fend for themselves.
The NSPCC says it’s unclear why the figures have risen so dramatically, but greater public awareness and improvements in how police record offences could be factors.
Sharon Copsey, NSPCC head of service for South West England, said: “Neglect is the most common form of abuse in the UK and can wreak havoc on a child’s brain development, emotional well-being, ability to form relationships, and mental health. These children are more likely to suffer from depression and post-traumatic disorder, and even suicidal thoughts. For some, neglect can be fatal.
“These levels of neglect simply do not belong to the 21st century. Many of these lonely, frightened, children have to resort to desperate measures to survive.
“It’s an unacceptable situation which must be remedied. And we can only do that by looking out for vulnerable children and making sure they are given the right support to prevent longer term damage to the lives of those who have survived the horror of such neglect and cruelty.”
The NSPCC is running a campaign – It’s Time – for all child victims of abuse to be given timely, appropriate therapy to help them overcome their traumatic experience. A survey last year revealed that more than one in five children referred to specialist NHS mental health services- including abuse victims- had their cases rejected.