Summer surge in child neglect

18th August 2000 at 01:00
School closures during holidays expose parenting weaknesses. Julie Henry reports.

RECORD numbers of calls are made to the country's largest child protection charity during the school summer holidays.

Callers report children left alone during the day by working parents and physical abuse by adults struggling to cope with their offspring all day.

The majority of calls come from worried neighbours. Ten per cent are from parents who have reached the end of their tether.

Figures obtained by The TES from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, reveal that over the past seven years calls to its helpline have risen during July and August.

An average 15,000 calls were logged by the charity in each of the two summer-holiday months - about 10 per cent higher than during the rest of the year.

Referrals from the NSPCC to the police and social services, indicating serious concerns about children at risk, are at their highest in the summer when they reach an average of about 700 - nearly double the number at other times of the year. Emergency funds, set aside by councils for desperate families are used up more quickly in summer, said Monica Gibb, vice president of the Association of Directors of Social Services.

Malcolm Ward, head of the NSPCC helpline, said: "Higher call rates and referrals are caused by a lack of supervision, general neglect and abuse.

"There are signs that parents are potentially not coping during the long summer.Families are also much more in the public eye in summer. Neighbours may see what normally goes on behind closed doors."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers claimed the figures showed how schools compensated for inadequate parenting in term-time: "Schools are forced to deal with the problems that parents should be picking up."

Jerry Bartlett, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "Teachers have to contain these pressures day in, day out. When schools are closed the public becomes aware of the difficulties of dealing with anti-social behaviour from parents and children."

Schools are responsible for about a third of child protection referrals to social services. Some authorities therefore experience a drop in referrals during school holidays. But in others, including Newcastle, Leicester and Leeds, the figures are offset by a rise in the number of self-referrals by stressed parents and referrals by relatives and neighbours.

Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations said: "The Government is putting pressure on parents to go out to work - this puts them under a lot of stress. It can be very difficult to find childcare in the summer."

Calls to the NSPCC from parents worried about paedophiles have risen dramatically in the wake of the Sarah Payne murder and the "name and shame" campaign by the News of the World.

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