Child cruelty offences in the UK have soared in the last 10 years. But what would you do if you noticed a child was being neglected? Here one woman explains how she stepped in to help a child in need...
A 4-year-old excited about an ironing board. To Gemma, 44, something didn’t seem right about that…
She was renting out her flat to a single dad and his daughter, Kimberly.
‘She told me she was excited to do the ironing,’ Gemma says. ‘I thought it was really strange that a 4-year-old girl did ironing. But I didn’t want to embarrass her dad by mentioning it.’
Over time, Gemma noticed that Kimberly’s clothes were too small for her. Aged 8, she was still wearing clothes for 5-year-olds. Her school uniform was scruffy and unwashed. She often had headlice, which her dad made no effort to remove.
Gemma felt sorry for her and began buying Kimberly new clothes and underwear. But she was worried that she was overstepping the mark.
‘I didn’t want her dad to get offended or think I was interfering, so I cut all of the labels out and told her dad they were hand-me-downs,’ Gemma admits.
According to the NSPCC, scruffy, unwashed clothes, poor hygiene and untreated medical problems, are key signs of child neglect.
And new research shows that the numbers of calls made reporting child neglect offences is on the rise.
In Kimberly’s case, Gemma began noticing signs of neglect the more time she spent with her.
‘I knew Kimberly liked lamb so every Friday night I’d cook her favourite dinner and we’d do her homework together,’ says Gemma, who is single.
But as time went on, Kimberly began staying at Gemma’s more frequently. And Kimberly’s dad didn’t seem to mind or care where his daughter was.
‘She was being neglected,’ says Gemma. ‘There are so many children not being looked after properly and you can’t just ignore it. People need to speak up and report it.’
Had they neglected their own flesh and blood?
Did Casey murder her own daughter?
How could a parent be so evil?
According to research by the NSPCC, the number of child cruelty and neglect cases in the UK has soared by 75 per cent in the past decade.
Parents or carers were reported in connection with 8,506 offences between 2014-2015, compared to 4,855 between 2005-2006.
The huge increase is reflected in the number of calls about neglect made to the NSPCC helpline last year, which was more than 16,000.
The CEO of the NSPCC, Peter Wanless, says: ‘Neglect is the most common form of abuse in the UK and can wreak havoc on a child’s brain development, emotional well-being, ability to form relationships, and mental health.
‘These children are more likely to suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and even suicidal thoughts. For some, neglect can be fatal.’
Fortunately for Kimberly, Gemma was there to help her.
‘She phoned me one night when she was about 10 and said she couldn’t wake her dad up,’ Gemma recalls. Gemma rushed straight there and found him asleep, surrounded by drugs.
‘I left him a note and took Kimberly home with me,’ says Gemma. ‘But I was disgusted at how irresponsible he was. Kimberly was a child and shouldn’t have been exposed to that.’ After that, Kimberly opened up to Gemma about living with her dad.
‘She told me her dad was a drug addict. She knew all about drugs and it broke my heart because she was so young. She also told me that her dad didn’t pay her much attention and left her to cook her own meals.’
Gemma was so concerned, she contacted Social Services and eventually they intervened. Kimberly has been staying with her ever since and Gemma even went to court to gain a guardianship order for her.
But according to the NSPCC, there are still approximately 25,590 children in the UK on child protection registers. Not every one of those kids has someone like Gemma to step in.
‘These levels of neglect simply do not belong in the 21st century,’ Peter Wanless adds. ‘It’s an unacceptable situation which must be remedied.’
The NSPCC are urging people to look out for signs of neglect and report anything they are concerned about. Speak up before it’s too late.
(Gemma and Kimberly are not their real names)
Signs to look out for
Children who are neglected may have:
– Poor appearance and hygiene, including unwashed clothes, appearing hungry or underweight.
– Health and development problems, including untreated medical and dental problems, recurring illnesses, rashes, flea bites and tiredness.
– Being left alone for long periods, never having lunch money at school and taking on a lot of responsibility at a young age.
What should you do?
Anyone worried about the welfare of a child should contact the NSPCC’s helpline: 0808 800 5000, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. See the NSPCC website for more advice.