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Child killings in England and Wales

Explaining the statistics


March 2014


There is no single source of statistics for the number of children who are killed by another person in the UK.



Reliable estimates of the number of children killed in England and Wales can be derived mainly from two government publications:

  • Office for National Statistics Focus on: violent crime and sexual offences (previously the Home Office's Homicide, firearm offences and intimate violence statistics)
  • Office for National Statistics (ONS) Mortality statistics.
Both include the number of children who have died at the hands of another person.

This page discusses these two sources as well as other publications which can provide information on child deaths in the UK.

Homicide statistics
Mortality statistics
Ofsted
Who kills children?
How does the situation here compare with other countries?
Preventable childhood deaths
Related links



Homicide statistics


Published annually, the homicide statistics by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are based on police records. They provide annual homicide figures as well as the rate (i.e. the number per million of the population) for the preceding ten years, broken down by sex and by the following age groups for children:

  • under one
  • age one to four
  • age five to 15.
The criteria for recording homicides have not changed since 1974, and, significantly, homicide cases that have not yet resulted in a conviction are also included.  Homicide offences are shown according to the year in which the police initially recorded the offence as homicide. This is not necessarily the year in which the incident took place or the year in which any court decision was made. The figures are adjusted in subsequent reports for those cases that have not resulted in a homicide conviction, but the adjustments are usually small.

References

Office for National Statistics (2014) Focus on: violent crime and sexual offences, 2012/13 (PDF). [Newport]: Office for National Statistics (ONS)


Mortality statistics


Mortality statistics published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) report the number of children who have died in any given year based on death certificates provided by local Registrars and Coroner’s reports. The figures are broken down by sex and several age groups up to age 16, though the age groups differ from the ones used in the homicide statistics.

ONS mortality statistics assign codes for causes of death. These are based on the Tenth Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), which replaced ICD-9 in January 2001. 

Death by ‘assault and neglect’ (X85-Y09 in ICD-10) includes all deaths where it is known that a third party was culpable (previously coded E904, E960-969 in ICD-9). However, this does not include those that are under investigation as potential homicides.

Before 2001, these pending cases were coded as deaths by ‘undetermined intent’ (E988.8), but ICD-10 codes them as Y33.9. Since 2001, deaths of ‘undetermined intent’ include only those deaths where the coroner has recorded an open verdict. These are generally regarded as probable suicides where it concerns adults, but for young children a question usually remains as to whether a third, unidentified party was in fact culpable.

Neither the homicide nor the mortality statistics provide figures for Northern Ireland or Scotland, or homicide figures for young people aged 16 and 17.

References

International classification of diseases, tenth revision ICD-10. Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Mortality statistics online.  Office for National Statistics (ONS).



Ofsted


Ofsted's Annual report 2007/08 (Ofsted, 2008) presented the findings from the first full year of inspection and regulation by Ofsted across its expanded remit that came into being in April 2007, which includes evidence of progress made in safeguarding children.

According to this report, in the 17-month period to the end of August 2008 local authorities in England notified Ofsted of 424 serious incidents involving the deaths of 282 children.  This equates to 199 annually, or almost four children each week.

Since publication of this report, Ofsted has clarified that 210 of these deaths, i.e. three each week, were actually attributable to abuse or neglect (Gilbert, 2008).  This is still higher than the NSPCC’s estimate of at least one child a week, but it must be borne in mind that the figures stem from very different, albeit complementary, sources of data and are in fact not contradictory.

The NSPCC has traditionally focused on the ONS (previously Home Office) homicide data, which records those cases where there is sufficient evidence that homicide may have taken place. This data has been collected relatively consistently for 30 years by the police and therefore provides a useful long term measure of change. However, it is the NSPCC’s long-held view that these official figures are actually an underestimate.

The Ofsted data include deaths in which abuse or neglect is known or suspected to have played a part in the widest sense: it includes cases with a history of domestic violence between the adults, where substance misuse was evident at time of death, or where investigations were inconclusive but abuse or neglect are suspected.

These deaths, however, are not accounted for in the homicide data. The NSPCC welcomes this important addition to the data pool and see it as a valuable enhancement to what we know about children’s tragic experiences.


References

Gilbert, C. (2008) Questions 296-300. In: Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence: taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee: the work of Ofsted - 10 Dec 2008.  [London]: [House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee].

Ofsted (2008)  The annual report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2007/08. London: The Stationery Office.



Who kills children?


The Office of National Statistics (ONS) homicide statistics also include figures on the relationship between the child victims and the principal suspect in any given year. The relationships are defined as: son/daughter; other family/friend/acquaintance; stranger; no suspect. Note, however, that the ONS data make no distinction between birth-parents, step-parents or adoptive parents.


References


Office for National Statistics (2014) Focus on: violent crime and sexual offences, 2012/13 (PDF). [Newport]: Office for National Statistics (ONS)


How does the situation here compare with other countries?


The World Health Organisation (WHO) provides information on all deaths recorded in different countries. However, international comparisons on childhood deaths from accidental and deliberately inflicted injury are not as robust as comparisons on deaths from childhood diseases, because there are important differences in national laws and practice on how accidental and violent deaths are investigated, certified and registered. This affects the completeness, accuracy and timeliness of the data.



Preventable childhood deaths

Since April 2008, Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) in England are required to set up a child death review process. Coroners are required to notify the LSCB of all child deaths. LSCB child death overview panels (CDOP) are responsible for reviewing each child death in their area, with the ultimate aim of helping the LSCB identify where action can be taken to reduce the number of child deaths.

The CDOP will identify issues relating to public health and service design and delivery, and cases where abuse is known or suspected to have played a part in the death will be one area of focus.

In previous years CDOPs were required to identify if the death was preventable or potentially preventable. These figures were included in the Department for Education’s annual publication Preventable child deaths in England.  However, following CDOPs’ reported difficulties in distinguishing between the two categories of "preventable" and “potentially preventable” the decision was made that from 1 April 2010 the two categories would be merged and redefined as “modifiable factors”. 

The Public Service Agreement 13 (HM Government, 2009) defines preventable and avoidable factors as: “…events, actions or omissions contributing to the death of a child or to substandard care of a child who died, and which, by means of national or locally achievable interventions, can be modified." 

This is clarified in the government's annual statistical publication which states: "panels are asked to identify modifiable factors in the child’s direct care by any agency, including parents; latent, organisational, systemic or other indirect failure(s) within one or more agency. Therefore a preventable death may not necessarily be due to a failure of the Local Authority to safeguard the child’s welfare" (DfE, 2011).

A preventable child death is defined as events, actions or omissions contributing to the death of a child or to substandard care of a child who died, and which, by means of national or locally achievable interventions, can be modified.

A modifiable death is defined as where there are factors which may have contributed to the death. These factors are defined as those which, by means of nationally or locally achievable interventions, could be modified to reduce the risk of future child deaths.

Of the child death reviews completed in the year ending 31 March 2010, 4% of deaths were assessed as preventable and a further 15% were assessed as potentially preventable (DfE, 2010).

Of the child death reviews completed in the year ending 31 March 2011, 20% were identified as having modifiable factors (DfE, 2011).

Of the child death reviews completed in the year ending 31 March 2012, 20% were identified as having modifiable factors (DfE, 2012)

Of the child death reviews completed in the year ending 31 March 2013, 21% were identified as having modifiable factors (DfE, 2013)

References

Department for Education (DfE) (2013) Child death reviews: year ending 31 March 2013 (PDF). London: Department for Education (DfE)

Department for Education (DfE) (2012) Child death reviews: year ending 31 March 2012 (PDF). London: Department for Education (DfE)

Department for Education (DfE) (2011)  Child death reviews: year ending 31 March 2011 (PDF)  London: Department for Education (DfE). 

Department for Education (DfE) (2010)  Preventable child deaths in England: year ending 31 March 2010 (PDF).  London: Department for Education (DfE).

HM Government (2009) Public Service Agreement 13: improve children and young people’s safety (PDF).  London: HM Treasury. p.25.


Child homicides
Key child protection statistics from the NSPCC.



Contact the NSPCC's information service for more information about statistics, child deaths or any child protection topic


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