Reflections on BASCPAN and the Welsh Neglect Project

Posted by Rhea Stevens / Friday 17 April 2015 / Safeguarding Child neglect

This week I travelled to Edinburgh from Cardiff to attend the UK’s biggest safeguarding conference held by BASPCAN - The Association of England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales for Child Protection
A speech by Dr James A. Mercy, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, USA, was one of the highlights of the event. He presented evidence from international Violence Against Children Surveys, which are used to better understand how children and young people experience and harm  violence. He described ways in which researchers were speaking directly with children in many different countries around the world to find out whether they had experienced any type of violence and whether they had accessed any help. 
Dr. Mercy’s key point was that in order to solve any problem first we have to measure and understand it, and then take action. The research teams are speaking with children directly to understand the reality of their experiences.  This allows them to understand  the scale of the issue, how it is happening and to which children. 
This principle: measure it, understand it, and take action, really struck a chord with me and Action for Children’s work on neglect in Wales. 
I attended the conference to  take part in a session arranged by the Welsh Government which presented information about work in Wales’ to keep children safe from harm. This included our Welsh Neglect Project.  
This project, a partnership with NSPCC Cymru / Wales and funded by the Welsh Government, is now coming to the end of its second year. We have reviewed how professionals in Wales were working to tackle neglect in Wales, learnt from what works best, and made recommendations for the Welsh Government to consider. We have focused on how we can take earlier action so that children get the support they and their families need before neglect has a devastating impact. 
There are lots of different elements to the project, but a fundamental part was our work to better understand the scale and nature of neglect in Wales. Just as Dr Mercy said – to be able to really tackle a problem, you have to first  measure  and understand it. 
In Wales, and across the UK, we simply don’t know enough about the scale of child neglect. Statistics tell us about the children who access help from social services teams, but that’s where it ends. We have a very small part of the picture: the tip of the iceberg.  
Research has estimated that 1 in 10 children in the UK experience abuse, but most of these children don’t come to the attention of services and don’t feature in statistics. That’s why our work has focused on better understanding the true scale of neglect: so that when we take action we better understand the problem and are able to target our efforts on preventing it.
The good news is that in Wales there is a real opportunity to put this learning to good use. The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 requires local authorities and local health boards to work together to measure and understand the needs of children and adults  living in their area. They will look at statistics of course, but crucially they will also have to speak with children, young people and parents in their area to understand their needs. Understanding how neglect affects children and young people’s lives first-hand is an essential part of building a more effective, early response. 
This law will come into force in April 2016. We are fortunate that the Welsh Neglect Project has had enormous support from organisations and professionals working with children and families in Wales.  We are in a strong position to put our learning to use and, with an improved understanding of the scale of neglect, focus our collective efforts on building  a more effective, early response. 

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