The NSPCC has published a formal statement about its recent child neglect campaign, after a child welfare campaigner raised concerns about its contents.

The campaign drew intense criticism from parents and activists for failing to mention that neglect is often an unavoidable side effect of acute poverty.

The children’s charity addressed the claim this week, telling the public that it did not feel the campaign demonised parents.

Concerns were raised when Michele Simmons spotted a large volume of child neglect articles online which bore a striking resemblance to each other. She noticed that all of the statistics mentioned were produced by the NSPCC, which works closely with the government on child welfare policies.

The tone and content of the articles concerned Michele so much that she decided to send a Freedom Of Information request to find out whether the articles were part of a wider campaign, who put the campaign together and how many news outlets had been contacted in the process.

Michele also contacted the NSPCC directly to try to get an immediate response to her query. This is the email she sent the charity:

“Good afternoon. I would like to ask a few questions and leave some constructive feedback too if  I may, which would appear to be of public interest.

I came a cross a published newspaper story on 23.08.17, published online and soon realised there were more with a similar running theme concerning the NSPCC with release of information widely available pertaining to the various Council boroughs. A non barrister/legal researcher soon saw my concerns and advised me, I need to aim my query toward your editorial/policy team to ask whether you have just ran a campaign on this issue and reached out to various Councils and newspapers and if so, which ones.

It looks like the run was coordinated for August 2017 in the main. It suggests that there has been a sharp rise in child neglect cases where I have discovered 20 strinkingly similar articles all referencing statistics from the NSPCC, indivudially tailored for the readers of each regional publication.

The said ‘copy cat’ story if I can put it this way, and upon further research, at a time children are about to head back to school with at least 40 more entries show them (said stories) to be spanning almost as many locations within Great Britain. I am interested to learn the origins of these articles, who requested them and how many areas were targeted.

I am concerned that articles like these are demonising parents rather than promoting a policy of support and help.

Perhaps it would have been better to publish all the data in one article for all to read, showing the name of the Council and the alleged percentage of neglect in each area. Surely the reader in each particular area, could feel conerns/the story is only aimed at their own area which would appear to be somewhat misleading. Make it more cost effective too.

I would have been interested to see a follow up story, explaining the possible causes for the different levels of neglect in each area. For example, poverty which could potentially be the root cause perhaps.

May I ask-

1. How many Councils the said newspaper story (as described in my subject line summary) covered or did not cover if this latter is easiest to collate. 
2. A chronological (if possible) brief summary list of all the Council borough areas (A-Z) the said NSPCC story reached for publication. 
3. Can I request this (all as already described) for England and Wales, then also Scotland and Ireland if possible. If you cannot help regards providing me my information for Scotland and Ireland, can you point me in the right direction who can help please. “

In response, the NSPCC issued a statement about the online articles. The charity confirmed that the news items had been part of a wider digital campaign aimed at tackling child neglect. The statement also goes on to outline where the data they shared came from, and tries to reassure parents that there was no intent on their part to stigmatise struggling parents. This is their response:

“Dear Ms Simmons,

Thank you for your email regarding a press release we put out on Wednesday 23 August 2017. The figures we released were the number of contacts to our NSPCC Helpline about child neglect, which have risen by 61 per cent over the past five years in the UK. If you would like to see the original data you will find it in Indicator 8 of our How Safe are our Children? report for 2017 .

Figures on the number of recorded neglect and cruelty offences are collected by the Home Office (for England and Wales), Police Service Northern Ireland and Scottish Government. We’ve provided information about this in Indicator 5 of the How Safe are our Children? report:
How Safe are our Children? 2017(PDF)

People from all over the country get in contact with our Helpline about a variety of issues, and our Practitioners will provide them with advice or refer the case to the Police and/or children’s services. When a case is referred to the authorities we record which local authorities the referral was made to. We regularly release Helpline statistics on a range of subjects to the media, and we provide these local breakdowns if appropriate, as it is this data that local and regional newspapers are interested in to make the story relevant to their area. For this press release on neglect we made local and regional data available to local media outlets in every UK region and nation.

We do not believe this press release demonised parents, and stated early on that, ‘the rise [in people contacting our Helpline] shows that more people are willing to speak up about the issue’ which can only be a positive sign. However, it is important we continue to raise awareness of this issue because we have seen a rise in people contacting the Helpline about child neglect and it is vital those children and families get the help they need.

In the press release we also said it vital we understand the true nature and scale of child neglect in the UK so we can collectively tackle the fundamental causes. We made a call to Government to commission a nationwide prevalence study on child abuse and neglect.

We hope this information is helpful.

Best wishes,

Duty Information Specialist
Knowledge and Information Services”

It’s a thoughtful response.

With many thanks again to Michele for sharing the NSPCC’s reply to her FOI request with us.