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Is the Children Act failing severely abused and neglected children?
  1. Nigel Speighta,
  2. Jane Wynneb
  1. aDryburn Hospital, North Road, Durham DH1 5TW, UK, bClarendon Wing, Leeds General Infirmary, Leeds, UK
  1. Dr Speight

Statistics from

Is the Children Act failing severely abused and neglected children? The simple answer to this question in our opinion is an emphatic “Yes”. The press carries articles almost daily concerning the plight of children in our society.1 2 Most paediatricians we have approached who have a special commitment to child protection work admit to feelings of near despair about the current state of child protection in this country. They feel that things are getting worse rather than better, and lay much of the blame for this on the Children Act and on the interpretation being put on this act by social workers, guardians ad litem, and the courts. We have received comments to the effect that the Children Act can be regarded as “A charter for abusive parents” or “A charter for abusive parents, lawyers and medical experts”! While these comments are anecdotal, impressionistic, and subjective we believe they deserve to be acknowledged as reflecting the deep sense of disillusion that exists, much of which we share.

Background to the Children Act 1990

It is perhaps unfair to expect perfection from any system or legislation in such a difficult and complex field as child abuse, and no developed society we are aware of has ever approached perfection. However, in this country we are entitled to expect that 27 years after the death of Maria Colwell we are entitled to legislation that would improve child protection significantly rather than make things worse. In our opinion it is the latter that has happened.

Before the Children Act, legislation and practice placed a stronger emphasis on protection of the child and insistence that abuse should stop. Early intervention was potentially firmer and more decisive. This protection was still far from perfect, as evidenced by the long list of children murdered while within the child protection system, each of …

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