Recession is linked to increase in child abuse: A new study shows a rise in the number of children on protection registers. Ian MacKinnon reports

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The Independent Online
THE NUMBER of children placed on protection registers for sexual abuse dropped in the wake of the Cleveland inquiry as social services departments probably adopted a more cautious approach to cases.

But, according to research published yesterday by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the total number of registrations for all categories of abuse between 1988 and 1990 was the greatest since the organisation began keeping statistics in 1973.

Poverty as a result of the recession was at least partly responsible for the upward trend, with the increased levels of unemployment and debt key elements. Marital problems were cited as the other major factor.

Children most at risk were those born to poor teenage mothers who went on to have large families. Almost half the children on the registers because of their 'failure to thrive' had mothers below the age of 20.

The report, which highlights the most recent trends in child abuse by examining 12 NSPCC child protection registers, is the sixth and last to be carried out over a period of 18 years. Child Abuse Trends in England and Wales 1988-1990: And an Overview 1973-1990 also attempts to show the changes that have taken place over the years that the studies have been conducted.

The average age of those on the registers and those who are physically injured has increased, while their family backgrounds have become more varied. However, a greater number of fathers with children on the register are unemployed.

Over the period 1975 to 1990 the number of registrations trebled while those placed on the register because of physical abuse almost doubled, leading the NSPCC to express concern over the resources available to cope with the increase.

The latest analysis for 1988 to 1990 shows that there were 9,628 children on the 12 registers, an increase on the previous study, though this is attributed to the widening of the register to cover children whose situation gives cause for 'grave concern', and increased public awareness of the problem.

Six out of 10 - 5,778 cases - had suffered abuse, while four out of 10 - 3,848 - were of 'grave concern'. Twenty-nine per cent of the abused children had been physically injured, 18 per cent sexually abused, 7 per cent neglected, 2 per cent emotionally abused, and 1 per cent were failing to thrive. Two per cent fell into a number of categories.

More than half the registered children's families were on income support, a level that rose to 70 per cent for the families of the neglected and emotionally abused. Conversely, the families of sexually abused children were least likely to be on income support. Less than one in five had been in their present accommodation for five or more years. Twelve per cent of mothers and 40 per cent of fathers of children on registers had a criminal record.

Child Abuse Trends in England and Wales 1988-1990: And an Overview 1973- 1990; NSPCC, 67 Saffron Hill, London EC1N 8RS; pounds 7.50.