Saturday, 13 April 2013

Emotional neglect and the criminal law

I was sorry to hear - on this morning’s BBC Radio 4’s Today programme  - consultant child psychiatrist Dr Eileen Vizard apparently supporting the charity Action for Children in calling for the criminal law relating to child neglect in England and Wales to be changed.

The argument is that it should be made easier to prosecute parents for emotional neglect. It is set out in great detail on the Action forChildren website 

As I have said before, I cannot see what all the fuss is about. There is no problem at all with the civil law (the Children Act 1989), which allows local authorities to intervene in all cases where there is a likelihood of significant harm to a child, whether caused by physical or emotional abuse or neglect. So the only issue appears to be an aspiration to prosecute and punish parents, who may currently be difficult to bring within the ambit of the criminal law.  

I simply can’t see what added value doing that would have. The proposed changes do not make it easier to intervene to protect a child and do not make it any more likely that intervention would be successful. And, I believe, they make it more likely that some inappropriate cases would come before the criminal courts, where the parents concerned turn out to be more deserving of help than of prosecution and possible imprisonment.