Cinderella Law: Pushy mothers – Beware.

Firstly, it’s a terrible tag line for a law. I’m guessing the implication is that should this proposed law (ie making the emotional abuse of children a criminal offence) have been around in fairytale land, Cinders wicked step-mother would’ve been facing 10 years inside.

The emotional abuse of children is serious and its effects far-reaching. Yet making it a criminal offence is at best problematic.

Here’s why.

Firstly, it’s hard to define. In the recent media publicity, examples such as ‘witnessing domestic violence,’ and ‘degrading punishments’ are used. Yet the NSPCC on it’s website says emotional abuse also includes ‘persistently ignoring a child,’ ‘never expressing positive feelings towards a child,’ and ‘pushing a child too far.’

So it’s not inconceivable that by introducing this law, we could be filling our prisons with over ambitious parents who’ve forced their children into endless streams of after school activities. And what about those American style pageant mothers who dress their toddlers up to look like Diana Dors? Or those who force them onto X Factor? Pushy definitely. But criminally abusive? Really? The NSPCC also states emotional abuse can occur when a parent is absent. So does that mean that a parent in hospital/prison who returns to the family home could then be locked up again for being absent? Sadly parental absence has always happened due to death, war and family breakdown. If this is seen as ‘emotional abuse,’ we are going to see a massive increase in our criminal population.

Problem two is proof. For a child to suffer emotional abuse, generally speaking we are not talking about a one off event. It has to be persistent and over a long period. Generally it will take place in the family home. So how is this evidence going to be secured? Are we again relying on our over-stretched and under resourced social care system? Or are we relying on our schools that already take on extra pastoral responsibilities as social care budgets are cut. I just can’t see where this evidence will come from. It certainly won’t be the parents (who maybe due to unmet mental health or other welfare type problems are unaware of the potential for emotional abuse anyway) and it won’t be the children.

Cinderella Law needs a lot more thought. There needs to be a clear definition of ‘emotional abuse’ plus systems and services in place to identify those children who are affected. Interestingly, in the civil system, children become involved in the child protection system due to neglect or sexual/physical abuse. The category of ‘emotional abuse’ is rarely seen. That’s not because it is not out there. It’s because it is so hard to identify and prove.

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