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Working together to protect children: who should be working with whom?
  1. Alan Craft
  1. Correspondence to:
    Professor SirAlan Craft
    Newcastle University, SCMS (Child Health), Sir James Spence Institute, RVI, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4LP, UK; a.w.craft{at}ncl.ac.uk

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Paediatricians and others involved in the area of child protection must work together with other professionals

Children have always been subjected to abuse and it is possible to read about the dreadful, by today’s standards, things which befell them throughout history. Western society changed its attitude during the 19th century partly prompted by the graphic descriptions of Charles Dickens and other great writers of the day. Yet little was done about abuse of children until the famous case of Mary Ellen Wilson in New York in the 1860s. Mary Ellen was persistently beaten and abused by her adoptive parents. Although the abuse was widely known about amongst the local community, it was impossible to get the police to prosecute the parents, as the rights of parents to chastise their child were sacrosanct. There were no laws to protect children from such abuse but eventually the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals were persuaded to use the animal protection laws on the grounds that Mary Ellen Wilson was a member of the animal kingdom and, therefore, should be protected. Mary Ellen was removed from her parents and very soon afterwards in 1871 the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed in New York, followed soon afterwards by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in the UK. Yet it was not until Henry Kempe in 19621 described “the battered child syndrome” that child protection really gained momentum.

Throughout the latter part of the 20th century there were many high profile cases of deaths of children following mistreatment, including that of Maria Colwell. There were a lot of official enquiries and most highlighted the fact that opportunities to intervene had been missed, very often because of poor communication between professionals. The recognition …

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