Almost 700 cases of child cruelty and neglect were recorded by Police Scotland last year, with a children’s charity warning youngsters could be at risk over Christmas.
Figures from the Scottish Government show that in 2019/20, Police Scotland recorded 672 concerns of adults neglecting, mistreating or assaulting children.
Now, the NSPCC has launched a Christmas campaign to raise awareness of child abuse, warning that cases of abuse rose during lockdown.
The charity said that during the spring lockdown, an average of 50 children a day across the UK turned to Childline to report abuse.
Counselling sessions rose by 22% compared with pre-lockdown levels.
The NSPCC is urging everyone to be aware of signs of abuse, saying that everyone needs to play their part in keeping young people safe.
Matt Forde, head of service at NSPCC Scotland, said: “Every year there are children in Scotland experiencing pain and suffering at the hands of those who are supposed to care for them.
“For those children whose homes are not always a safe place, this year will have been extremely difficult.
“Their usual support networks and services will have been greatly reduced and many will have felt trapped and isolated.
“So, this year it is even more essential that children have a place where they can seek help and support.
“Our Childline service will be running every day over the Christmas holidays, but we need the public’s support so we can ensure vulnerable children are heard.”
A 14-year-old girl from Scotland contacted a Childline counsellor, after being abused by her father.
She said: “I’m feeling so stressed and upset at home right now.
“My dad abuses me a lot by making me starve.
“I literally have to beg for things to eat, and if I do get food it’s the tiniest bits.
“I feel hungry a lot but then it just turns into me feeling sick.
“I just wanted someone to talk to so I came here.”
Another, a 15-year-old girl, contacted Childline as she was finding it hard to cope being at home during lockdown.
She told a counsellor: “My parents don’t look after me and my siblings properly.
“The house is very dirty and my bedroom is damp and mouldy.
“The house is constantly cold as there is no heating and no hot water.
“Since lockdown, I’ve been finding it really hard to cope at home, I miss being at school.”
Detective chief superintendent Samantha McCluskey, head of public protection at Police Scotland, said: “I want to reassure our communities that child protection is a priority for Police Scotland.
“Anyone who reports the abuse of a child can be assured that we will listen and we will investigate all reports, no matter whether the offences happened in private, public or virtual spaces. The passage of time is no barrier to reporting.
“We know that, for some, the restrictions in place may expose them to greater risk of abuse, harm and neglect.
“Protecting children requires a well coordinated and committed multi-agency approach and we work closely with partners locally and nationally to identify children and young people who may be at risk, improve services and ensure appropriate support is available.
“Everyone in society has a part to play in protecting children. If you suspect someone may be abusing children then please contact the police on 101 or dial 999 if you think there is immediate risk of harm.”
The NSPCC is reminding adults that if they have concerns about a child’s welfare they can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.
Signs of abuse and neglect to look out for can include:
- Untreated injuries, medical and dental issues.
- Repeated accidental injuries caused by lack of supervision.
- Recurring illnesses or infections.
- Faltering weight or growth, and not reaching developmental milestones.
- Poor language, communication or social skills.
- Have unwashed clothes.
- Have inadequate clothing, like not having a winter coat.
- Living in an unsuitable home environment – for example without adequate heating, or dog mess being left.
- Left alone for a long time.
- Taking on the role of carer for other family members.