In the wake of what is almost daily news surrounding the abhorrent malpractice of senior managers, social workers and police forces in the Rotherham scandal, we feel it’s time to take a closer look at Action for Children’s proposed Cinderella Law, and ask once more: will any new criminal sanctions for child neglect include State neglect of children in its care?

John Cameron, head of the NSPCC’s helpline has this week called for those who are found to be responsible for poor practice to be removed from their posts and prevented from working in child protection. This, just as The Telegraph reports that council senior managers responsible for failing to act in the Rotherham scandal have not only avoided punishment, but have gone on to man new senior posts elsewhere. Cameron goes on to suggest that professionals with authority to act, who fail to do so, should also face serious criminal sanctions.

This takes us back to the now infamous Cinderella Law. Less of a law, and more of a proposed addendum to current legislation, Cinderella sought to evolve child abuse legislation to include emotional abuse, all punishable by fines or prison sentences.  At the time, considered voices inside the justice system were concerned about the effectiveness of the proposal and the impact it would have on children and families, but little was offered by Action for Children, the creators of Cinderella, in terms of clarification on just how this new clause would work.

One thing is certain, though – the proposed measure was designed with parents and carers in mind. But not a word on how this would work should professionals neglect children in their care. And yet, the draft clause and the relevant sections of the Children and Young Persons Act (the relevant law which would house this new clause) make it very clear:

Cinderella proposes that –

(1)    It is an offence for a person with responsibility for a child intentionally or recklessly to subject that child or allow that child to be subjected to maltreatment, whether by act or omission, such that the child suffers, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.

and then:

For the purposes of this section:
(a)    ‘recklessly’ shall mean that a person with responsibility for a child foresaw a risk that an act or omission regarding that child would be  likely to result in significant harm, but nonetheless unreasonably decided to run that risk;
(b)    ‘responsibility’ shall be as defined in section 17;

S.17 reads:

For the purposes of this Part of this Act, the following shall be presumed to have responsibility for a child or young person—

(a)any person who—

(i)has parental responsibility for him (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989); or

(ii)is otherwise legally liable to maintain him; and

(b)any person who has care of him.

This already places the likes of council managers well within the confines of ‘carer’ and thus, the definition of responsibility.

The NSPCC clearly want criminal sanctions for professionals who fail to protect children at risk. We wonder how Action for Children feel about this latest development, and whether they might be prepared to comment. They have so far remained rather quiet on Rotherham, which is surprising given the remit of the charity, and the fact that their latest news item on their site focuses on the terrible discovery that most councils have no idea of the extent of child neglect in their area.

If ever there was a time for Action for Children to clarify where they stand on criminalizing child neglect, it is now. Cinderella must answer the siren call.