Child cruelty crimes surge by more than a fifth - we urgently need government action

We’re urging the government to strengthen the child protection system and significantly reduce child cruelty crimes.

Following the tragic deaths of young children like Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, Star Hobson and Amina-Faye Johnson, the current Health and Care Bill could put children at higher risk of abuse.

The latest ONS crime data shows that between January and September 2021 there were more than 28,000 child cruelty offences recorded by police in England and Wales - up 22% on 2019/20.

Child cruelty offences cover neglect as well as physical abuse.

Worried about a child?

If you're worried about a child or young person, you can contact the NSPCC Helpline for support and advice for free - call us on 0808 800 5000 or contact us online.

Children can contact Childline any time to get support themselves.

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Our helpline is experiencing an increase in child cruelty reports

Some of our latest helpline figures paint a worrying picture about child cruelty:

  • During the first year of the pandemic we contacted agencies about an average of 25 children aged 5 and under a day to investigate physical abuse and neglect
  • During 2020/21 we contacted agencies, including statutory safeguarding partners, about more than 9,400 young children with worries about physical abuse and neglect – up almost 10% on the previous year
  • In total nearly half of all our referrals related to child cruelty were made about children aged 5 and under, highlighting the risk they face before coming into regular contact with professionals at school

A grandparent who contacted our helpline during the pandemic about their 4, 5 and 7-year-old grandchildren said*:


“The youngest described an incident where he was assaulted by his mother’s boyfriend in front of her because he'd done something to upset her. He was in so much pain and was very scared.

All of them have told me they don’t like to be left alone with their mother’s boyfriend because they’re scared of what he'll do to them and he regularly threatens them.”


Improving the multi-agency response

We’re urging the government to show leadership, address serious problems within the child protection system throughout England and use the Health and Care Bill to strengthen the response to child abuse.

In its current form the Bill will put children in danger due to proposed changes to NHS structures. This could destabilise multi-agency safeguarding partnerships by disrupting working relationships, resulting in a loss of experienced staff.

Recent reports from child safeguarding experts, including Sir Alan Wood, have called for better leadership and information sharing in multi-agency safeguarding partnerships to strengthen the local response to abuse.

Multi-agency safeguarding partnerships are led by health bodies, local authorities and the police. They’re engaged with education leaders and other organisations that do vital work to protect children from harm.

GPs, nurses and health visitors are in a prime position to identify safeguarding concerns. They’re often the only eyes and ears in the community that can spot signs of abuse before young children go to school. We fear the changes to the NHS could further weaken safeguarding partnerships that already need urgent improvement.

The Health and Care Bill will scrap existing Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and create Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) which will be legally responsible for safeguarding children across large geographical areas.

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Amending the Health and Care Bill

Working with a wider children’s sector group, we're asking for an amendment to the Bill to send a clear message that ICBs must prioritise their legal duty to safeguard children.

We want to see government accountability for the safe transition of child protection responsibilities and legislation that strengthens health professionals’ leading role in multi-agency safeguarding partnerships.

Anna Edmundson, NSPCC Head of Policy and Public Affairs, said:

“The entire country was shocked and saddened by the horrific deaths of Arthur Labinjo- Hughes, Star Hobson and Amina-Faye Johnson which led to calls to prioritise child protection.

But at a time when the government could be showing national leadership when it comes to safeguarding, child protection guidance is glaringly absent from big changes to the system that will result from the Health and Care Bill.

It’s crucial the importance of health services’ role in identifying and preventing child abuse before tragedies occur is recognised in legislation and backed up with investment for a fragmented and woefully underfunded child protection system.”

We’re also calling on the government to adopt the recommendations made by Sir Alan Wood to improve multi-agency safeguarding partnerships and enact a swift cross-departmental response to the national review into the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson.

As part of the Children’s Services Funding Alliance, we’ve long urged ministers to address the funding shortfall in children’s services.

We’re also campaigning for action to resolve the national shortage of 5,000 health visitors who are responsible for safeguarding the youngest children.

Baroness Claire Tyler, co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for children, said:

"Following recent horrific cases of child abuse and neglect leading to the tragedy of child deaths, the Health and Care Bill, currently making its passage through the Lords, provides a golden opportunity for the government to strengthen the health sector’s leading role in multi-agency safeguarding arrangements.

Given the gravity of the safeguarding responsibilities being transferred to Integrated Care Boards, I urge the government to ensure children’s safety is a priority for this Bill. By supporting agencies to work together effectively and share information, further heart-breaking cases of child abuse and neglect could be avoided.”


*This is a true story but photographs have been posed by a model.