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Child neglect law to be modernised

3 March 2017

Emotional abuse and neglect of children will be the subject of new modern legislation, Scotland's Minister for Childcare and Early Years has announced.

Minister Mark McDonald said the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 would be updated to recognise the impact of emotional abuse and neglect, as well as physical harm.

In a statement to the Holyrood Parliament, he confirmed the move as part of a range of actions to further strengthen child protection following the publication of two reports, the comprehensive review of the child protection system led by former Crown Agent Catherine Dyer, and the Child Protection Improvement Programme Report.

Also planned by the Scottish Government are:

  • a National Child Protection Policy which identifies all responsibilities and action across government to support families and protect children;
  • exploration of how best to establish a National Child Protection Register, to better protect young people on local registers who move to a new area;
  • national standards for those carrying out significant case reviews, which currently vary in quality and timescale;
  • an expanded role for the Care Inspectorate to analyse significant case review findings and share learning at a national level, and to host a short-life working group to examine joint inspections;
  • a National Child Protection Leadership Group, chaired by the Minister for Childcare and Early Years, to support, strengthen and improve activity on child protection.

“Catherine Dyer’s review concludes that, in general, our child protection system works well", Mr McDonald said. "However, both she and the Child Protection Improvement Programme Report have identified opportunities to strengthen all aspects of the system to better protect our children. I have accepted all of these recommendations in full and set out how they will be implemented swiftly and effectively.

"Importantly, we will introduce new legislation to make the emotional abuse and neglect of children a criminal offence, updating an 80-year old law whose archaic language has resulted in difficulties prosecuting offences.”

The Dyer review was asked to consider whether statutory underpinning was required for key aspects of the child protection system, but recommended a range of other action before moving to legislate. Mr McDonald added that he had made it clear where he expected to see improvements in the system, particularly in relation to consistency of approach, and "If in a year’s time there is little evidence of real and substantial progress then I will not hesitate to bring forward legislation to provide an appropriate statutory underpinning.”

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