Number of recorded child cruelty and neglect offences up by 53% over 3 years

During the first three months of lockdown, police recorded 5,478 child cruelty and neglect offences. With figures rising over the past three years,  we’re highlighting the risk that children may face this Christmas, and asking everyone to play their part in keeping young people safe.


Our analysis of police data has revealed that there were 23,529 recorded offences over the 12-month period between 2019 and 2020. 1.

Although there are significant variations between different regions and nations, we are concerned about this increase in child cruelty and neglect and its overall rise of 53% during the past three years.

We have also examined the impact of lockdown on children and families. Our frontline teams became concerned that increased vulnerability, the challenges of safeguarding remotely and wider pressures on families may have increased the risks of abuse and neglect. During the spring lockdown, an average of 50 children a day turned to Childline after suffering abuse, with counselling sessions about this issue increasing by 22% compared with pre-lockdown levels. 2.

In the first three months of the spring lockdown, 5,476 child cruelty and neglect offences were recorded by police from 1 April to the 30 June this year. But even that is not the full picture of what children may have experienced during those months, say the police. Not every police-recorded offence leads to a prosecution or child protection outcome, each represents a significant concern raised to the police about a child. 3

To raise awareness of child neglect and abuse this Christmas, a number of iconic UK landmarks including Battersea Power Station will turn green from 7 December, supporting the NSPCC’s Here for Children Christmas Appeal. The charity has also launched a new TV appeal which depicts some of the situations Childline expect to deal with this Christmas. 

As part of its new appeal, the charity is calling on the public to donate £20 so we can still be here for children during the holidays. We are also urging the government to ensure that a comprehensive recovery plan is put in place to see that children get the help they need in the short and long term. This would include investment in support for victims before, during and after the criminal justice process.


Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC said:

“The pandemic is the greatest challenge we’ve faced in decades and these figures are yet another example of its impact on vulnerable children. They also provide a heart-breaking picture of the concern about the number of young people who were exposed to pain and suffering following the start of the pandemic. 

“This year it is even more essential that children have a place where they can seek help and support. Our Childline service will be running every day over the Christmas holidays, but we need the public’s support so we can ensure vulnerable children are heard.”


Spotting the signs of abuse

  • untreated injuries, medical and dental issues
  • repeat accidental injuries caused by lack of supervision
  • recurring illnesses or infections
  • faltering weight or growth, and not reaching developmental milestones
  • poor language, communication or social skills
  • unwashed clothes and inadequate clothing in general, like not having a winter coat
  • living in an unsuitable home environment - inadequate heating, or dog mess around the house, for example
  • being left alone for a long time
  • taking on the role of carer for other family members.

Worried about a child?

Find out more


Names have been changed to protect identities. Any photographs are posed by models.


  1. 1. Data of recorded child cruelty and neglect offices were available from the Home Office ‘Police recorded crime and outcomes open data tables’ for England and Wales, and provided to the NSPCC by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (available on Police Annual Trend Data) and Police Scotland and the Scottish Government.


  2. 2. The percentage change for the number of Childline counselling sessions about abuse and neglect was calculated by comparing the monthly average number of counselling sessions for 6 January – 22 March 2020 with the monthly average for 1 April 2020 – 31 July 2020.

  3. 3. An increase in the number of police-recorded cruelty and neglect offences does not necessarily mean that there has been a rise in the number of crimes committed. Other factors which could contribute to an increase include: greater awareness of child abuse leading to increased reporting; improvements in recording processes; and a rise in investigations into child abuse. The increase in recorded offences can also be partly explained by a change in the offence classification in England and Wales in June 2015 to include psychological suffering or injury as well as physical suffering or injury.