ROSIE Waterhouse's article is a welcome contribution to an overdue evaluation of the meaning of child abuse ("So what is child abuse?", 23 July). However, she perpetuates a common mistake by using "child abuse" when she refers to sexual abuse. The well-publicised extremes of some social work practice over the last 10 years (Cleveland, Orkney) have removed attention from the physical abuse of children. The debate about what is child abuse has to include discussion of all forms of violence done by adults to children.

Parents Against Injustice suggests in the article that "social workers need to be more aware of the realities of normal family life". Does PAI suppose that social workers have had no normal lives as children and that we do not have children of our own?

Perhaps it would be more appropriate to ask whether, in a time of decreasing public morality, social work has unwittingly (and unfairly) been set up as the conscience and the scapegoat of an uncaring society. For the official maltreatment of children we need look no further than the proposals for child prisons and the withdrawal of benefit for teenagers. No one profession can ensure the safety and well-being of our children - particularly when there is no agreement on what this safety and well-being might mean in practice.

Gary Clapton, Maggie Mellor

Edinburgh

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