The spotlight has been shone on child abuse over the past few weeks, with allegations in relation to Jimmy Savile and abuse in care homes in North Wales dominating the front pages. Theresa May has announced this week that two new inquiries will be launched into the child abuse in North Wales care homes in addition to several police, BBC, hospital and care home investigations and inquiries instigated in the wake of the Savile allegations.
In the meantime, and away from the media glare, for many solicitors and child protection professionals cases involving allegations of child abuse are still a sad reality of their day-to-day caseload. Child abuse is not confined to those children in the care system and many children, whether living with their family or relatives, or within the care of a local authority will fall victim (NSPCC statistics show that nearly a quarter of young adults experienced sexual abuse during childhood). One outcome of the recent media coverage may be that victims of abuse might feel more able to speak out about the abuse they are, or have been, suffering. Certainly some personal injury firms specialising in child abuse have already reported a rise in the number of now-adult victims of child abuse coming forward.
The issues facing professionals when involved in a child abuse case are complicated and demanding. There will often be a range of agencies involved and there may be criminal, civil and, if the victim is still a child, perhaps care proceedings to coordinate. Communication between agencies and professionals is therefore key. Evidence in child abuse cases is a notoriously complex area and the skills required by the professionals involved in gathering and analysing evidence are refined and earned through many years of individual and collective experience in working on such cases.
The recent press attention has served to highlight the problem of child abuse. However, the fact that it took a TV documentary before officials took allegations of child sexual abuse seriously is alarming and the question remains as to whether without a ‘celebrity' element this child abuse would have garnered the attention it has done. Whilst politicians and commentators debate the approach to take in dealing with the Savile and North Wales allegations the experience and knowledge of those experts on the front line, who are involved with cases of child abuse on a regular basis, should not be overlooked. And neither should the fate of those children whose suffering does not reach the headlines.
Amy Royce-Greensill is a Family Law PSL at Jordan Publishing and was formerly a family solicitor practising in London.