NSPCC fears delays over child abuse calls

Most people wait over a month to report concerns over suspected child abuse, figures from the NSPCC suggest.

A record number of almost 45,000 people in the UK contacted the NSPCC because they were worried about a child in 2011, over a quarter more than 2010.

Around half of these cases were so serious they warranted immediate action.

But over half 56% of callers had waited more than a month and more than one in four (27%) had waited six months.

The report,"Helpline highlight: a year in review," also found that contacts to the NSPCC had increased by 29% on the previous year, with a doubling of calls about abuse over the past five years.

In over half, 55% of all calls that resulted in a referral, the caller said they had heard or seen the child in distress.

Nearly two thirds, 60%, of referrals involved either parental substance misuse, domestic abuse or concerns about the parent's mental health.

Social media campaign

The figures were published as the charity launched a social media campaign made by Skins director Amanda Boyle, urging members of the public not to ignore "niggling doubts" about a child's safety.

The video campaign, which the charity hopes will go "viral" will be published on YouTube, Netmums, Twitter and Facebook, where supporters will be able to "donate" their Facebook status to the campaign for a week.

The charity will also be holding a twelve hour "day in the life of the helpline" event on Twitter, with live updates and interviews from 0800 GMT until 1800 GMT.

One woman, Varsha, whose name has been changed, phoned the NSPCC after several weeks of worrying about her neighbour's son.

She said: "I knew the mum had recently gone away, and the constant shouting had got worse since she left. The night I called the NSPCC, the boy's screams reverberated in my mind. I was in tears imagining what it must be like for him and I couldn't let it pass.

"It was a great relief for me to speak to the NSPCC counsellor. I immediately asked if I had done the right thing in calling, and she reassured me that I had. I felt taken seriously and that at least I had done something for this little boy."

Psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulous said: "We know that one in five children experience severe abuse or neglect at some point in their childhood. The impact of abuse can be profound, and the longer it continues the greater the risk of long-term physical and emotional damage."

Siobhan Freegard, co-founder of the Netmums website, said: "People may be scared to pick up the phone because they think this will automatically result in something drastic like the police turning up and taking their neighbour's children away.

"But in many cases the NSPCC provides callers with help and advice without taking things any further. Its helpline counsellors deal with thousands of calls every year and will know the best course of action to take."

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