Emotional abuse and neglect will be a criminal offence.
New legislation to criminalise emotional abuse and neglect of children will be introduced in Scotland, Minister for Childcare and Early Years Mark McDonald has announced.
The Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 will be updated to recognise the impact of emotional abuse and neglect, as well as physical harm.
In a statement to Parliament, Mr McDonald confirmed the move as part of a robust range of actions to further strengthen child protection following the publication of two reports.
In response to the comprehensive review of the child protection system led by Catherine Dyer, and the Child Protection Improvement Programme Report, the Scottish Government will:
- Introduce new legislation to create a criminal offence of abuse and neglect of children.
- Publish a National Child Protection Policy which identifies all responsibilities and action across government to support families and protect children.
- Explore how best to establish a National Child Protection Register, to better protect young people on local registers who move to a new area
- Produce national standards for those carrying out Significant Case Reviews, which currently vary in quality and timescale
- Expand the role of 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
- Establish a National Child Protection Leadership Group, chaired by the Minister for Childcare and Early Years, to support, strengthen and improve activity on child protection.
The Minister said:
“This government is determined to ensure more of Scotland’s children get the best possible start in life. This means protecting the most vulnerable in our communities from harm, abuse and neglect.
“Catherine Dyer’s review concludes that, in general, our child protection system works well. 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.”
Catherine Dyer’s system 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 continued:
“I have made clear where I expect to see improvements in Scotland’s child protection system, particularly in relation to consistency of approach. 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.”
The Child Protection Improvement Programme should not be seen in isolation: the findings of independent root and branch Care Review in Scotland and the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, in relation to further changes in practice, policy or legislation, will also be taken into account by the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Government will work with partners will begin to explore how best to establish a National Child Protection Register and how it might work. In the short term, we will work with Police Scotland to develop a flagging system on the National Vulnerable Persons Database to identify all children placed on local Child Protection Registers.
New legislation will update the provisions in section 12 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937, to recognise the impact of emotional abuse and neglect, as well as physical harm. The Scottish Government will consult on the scope and nature of the legislation later this year.
Catherine Dyer’s ‘Systems Review – Protecting Scotland’s Children and Young People: It is still everyone’s job’ and the Child Protection Improvement Programme Report are available on the Scottish Government website.