Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: The shocking figures of child abuse

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The Independent Online

These are the best of times for the rich and middle classes and the worst of times for the disadvantaged, hopeless and vulnerable. I am talking about the children of Britain. Most are better looked after and loved than ever before in history while the rest are as wretched and impecunious as poor Victorian children. Exceptional individuals and committed organisations do try to save these lost kids, but the rest of society seems not to give a damn. More attention is paid to the recycling of rubbish than to the many kids trashed by families and disregarded by the state.

The recession and benefits cuts will make these young lives even more exposed to domestic violence, sexual exploitation and mistreatment.

The PM and Deputy PM and too many members of the Cabinet represent constituencies with low levels of poverty and relatively few problem families. Their voters despise the "feckless, fecund and feral" underclass, so the politicians can happily ignore them.

Today an NSPCC report warns that almost half of the 90,000 children in care are sent back to abusive and neglectful families. Austerity means more applications for care and more returns. Over 70 per cent of such children interviewed by the NSPCC did not want to go back home. The assessments are poor and hasty decisions are being made – in my view to save money. Abusive parents, from what I know as a journalist, can accuse returned children of treachery and subject them to increased torment. Many will undoubtedly have to be taken into care again or will run away.

The statistics are grim: 14,000 children are living with relatives because their own parents are alcoholics or drug addicts. According to the Missing Persons Bureau, around 100,000 children under 17 go missing ever year, a large number to escape from brutal parents. UNICEF and OECD reports have, over the past five years, concluded that too many children in our country have broken lives and no hopes for their futures.

So what does the Government say or do? It is obsessed with finding fairy godparents to come forth and adopt unwanted children. There will never be enough such mums and dads for the more than 90,000 kids in care and some adoptions break down, leaving children even more hurt and angry. The only other "strategy" is to pass all responsibility and blame to local authorities as Tim Loughton, children's minister, did this weekend: "It is right to keep families together... We've toughened up the law, so local authorities must make a rigorous assessment of parent's suitability..." blah, blah. While they squabble more children suffer or disappear into the twilight underworld of crime and prostitution.

These wasted young lives are neglected and abused by the nation as much as by their own families. Many will end up in our courts and be thoroughly punished. But at least then they will finally be seen and heard.

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