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Exeter academic says child neglect law is "unfit for 21st century"

By RichardBirch  |  Posted: February 07, 2013

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The current law on child neglect is unfit for the 21st century, according to a report published today by independent experts including Huw Williams of the University of Exeter

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AN academic at the University of Exeter has claimed the current law on child neglect is unfit for the 21st century.

In a report published today (February 7), independent experts including Huw Williams of the University of Exeter call for the current law to be overturned and proposes alternative legislation that would "more effectively protect children in the most serious cases of neglect".

The report, from a panel of experts, chaired by Laura Hoyano, Hackney Fellow & Tutor in Law at the University of Oxford , makes clear that the current law on child neglect is beset with problems.

Laura Hoyano said: "The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 will be 80 years old in April 2013, with sections of the Act dating back to 1868. The time has come for us to treat child neglect with the same seriousness we afford physical and sexual abuse, and to replace the antiquated, confusing and ultimately inadequate criminal law against the neglect of children."

The current law only covers physical harm, following a House of Lords decision in 1981 which ruled out emotional and psychological harm from the offence. This is at odds with modern understanding of neglect, including the Government's own definition of neglect which social workers and family courts are required to use.

Professor Williams said: "There is a substantial body of evidence on how neglect can lead to serious damage to the welfare of children. Ultimately, and very sadly, this can sometimes result in the loss of life. Neglect can lead to emotional, social and psychological problems in affected children.

"There is even evidence of brains not developing as they should. Such children may end u on the margins of society. They could be at more risk of being excluded from school, and end up in the justice system. We want to empower front line workers – such as Police and Social Workers - to be able to take action to prevent such clear, ongoing cases, of serious neglect. Of course some parents may be vulnerable themselves, and so we need to make sure their needs are identified, and the right support is provided to engage them in their role as parents. This bill will allow a faster, clearer, route for justice for these children."

Huw Williams is an Associate Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology and co-director of the Centre for Clinical Neuropsychology Research CCNR.

The proposed amendment is being considered as part of the Crime and Courts Bill.

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