We all have a responsibility to keep childhood free from abuse. We must do everything possible to protect children and young people and prevent abuse from happening. So if a law needs to change, or if more needs to be done to protect children, we demand it.
Our policy, lobbying, influencing and campaigning work helps bring about the changes we want to see across the UK and Jersey. And the fact that we're independent – relying on the public to fund our work – means we can push for change when others can't.
Protecting children online
It's time children had the same protections online as they do in the physical world.
Online sexual abuse has increased in scale and complexity. Children are groomed on social networks, child abuse imagery is freely shared online and children are coerced into sending self-generated imagery. We must ensure children are safe online.
Our Wild West Web campaign works to ensure the UK becomes the safest place for children to be online. We want government to introduce a legal duty of care on tech firms to protect children from the life-changing impact of online abuse.
Equal protection – ending the defence of 'reasonable punishment'
Across the UK, parents and carers who physically assault their children can defend their actions by arguing the physical force was reasonable punishment for their actions.
There's overwhelming evidence that physical punishment can be harmful to children, with physical punishment associated with increased childhood aggression and antisocial behaviour. Physical punishment also carries a serious risk of escalation into abuse.
We've long campaigned for legal change to remove the defence of 'reasonable punishment' and ensure all children have the same protection from physical assault as adults. We've been involved in successfully campaigning for changes to the law in Scotland and are working towards similar legal changes to be introduced in Wales. This follows earlier success in Jersey where the law eliminating the reasonable punishment defence was passed in January 2019.
Educating children on relationships and sex
Relationships and sex education is vital. Teaching children and young people about relationships and sex, in a way that's appropriate to their age and development, helps them learn how to develop positive relationships, recognise abusive or controlling behaviour and know how to seek help.
Schools should ensure all children suffering abuse know it's not their fault and that it's never okay for anyone to abuse them. Teachers need to know how to help students navigate the changes they experience through childhood and adolescence, help them realise their full potential and engage in happy, healthy relationships.
Positions of trust
All children have the right be protected from abuse and exploitation. When the law isn't providing this protection, we campaign to change it.
It's illegal for teachers, care workers and youth justice workers to have sex with 16 or 17-year-olds in their care. But there's a loophole in the law that means other adults who hold a position of power over a young person can legally have sex with them. This includes sport coaches, youth workers and faith group leaders. We're calling for the law to be extended to all adults who hold a position of power over 16 or 17-year-olds.
Perinatal mental health and early years
The perinatal period, from conception to the first year of a baby's life, is a crucial time for laying firm foundations for babies' emotional wellbeing and long-term outcomes.
Mental health difficulties during this time can have a significant impact on the day-to-day life of parents, making it difficult for them to bond with their baby and potentially affect the child's overall development.
It's vital the rights services are in place to support them and their babies. Our Fight for a Fair Start campaign is demanding families in every part of the UK gets the support they deserve.
Mental health support
Abuse and neglect can negatively affect children's mental health, increasing the chances of developing mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
We know early, effective mental health support can help children recover from the effects of abuse and go on to lead happy and fulfilling lives. But not all children have access to the support they need.
We're campaigning the government and NHS to make sure the need for mental health support for children who've experienced abuse is fully taken into account when planning provision, making sure the right support is both available and accessible.
Domestic abuse, substance misuse and mental health problems in families are some of the most significant risk factors which can lead to child abuse and neglect. But we also know this isn't inevitable and even in difficult circumstances, with the right support, children can thrive.
We want changes to the law so the experiences of children and young people living in households with domestic abuse are recognised. We're calling for greater provision of specialist support services so children experiencing domestic abuse are safe and can be helped to recover.
Young witnesses and support for children who've experienced abuse
Being the victim of abuse can impact a child's mental health, their wellbeing and ability to get on with their lives. We want young witnesses and children who've experienced abuse to get the help they need to recover.
Not all children who've experienced abuse will come into contact with the criminal justice system. But for some, this is part of their recovery and receiving tailored support at every step of the process is crucial. Positive experiences with police, the courts and legal practitioners can help children move forward. But negative experiences can be damaging and, for some children, re-traumatising and discourages them from seeking justice.
We're working for changes to law, policy and practice so that young witnesses and victims across the UK have access to specialist, child-centred support like that provided by The Lighthouse and the specialist Young Witness Service.
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