Scotland wants to be the best small country in the world for children to grow up in. It's a great aspiration to set but as new figures show an increase in the number of children on child protection registers, with more than half under the age of five - is Scotland getting any closer to giving its children the very best start in life?
For the tabloids the child protection figures are shocking, not least because 95 children are on the register before they've even left the womb. For the Scottish Government they are an indicator of success. More children on the register at a younger age means the: "most at risk children are getting the help they need, when they need it." Two different child protection experts will read different things in to the fact that children are coming off the child protection register more quickly. While those children may be getting the safe, nurturing care they need to heal the scars of their early experiences, they could also be at a greater risk of returning to a further cycle of abuse or neglect.
A single set of statistics can only give us part of the child protection picture in Scotland or indeed in any of the UK's four nations. What we do know, more certainly than ever before, is that the attachment a baby makes to its closest carers - whether that's their birth parents, kinship carers or foster/adopted parents has a profound effect on their development. Where this bond is disrupted by ill treatment or neglect a baby can go on to experience behavioural, language and learning difficulties and physical and mental ill-health. This damage can stay with a child throughout their life.
The good news is that as we've learnt more about the impact of abuse on a child's development, we've also learnt more about how we can help a child recover and what can be done to prevent the recurrence of abuse. With the right support and most importantly with safe, stable and sensitive care children can recover from the effects of early abuse and enjoy the same chance of a happy and healthy future as any other child.
Most parents want to give their children the very best start in life they can. Many of the parents we work with at our NSPCC centre in Glasgow have had no experience of what it's like to be properly cared for, or are struggling with their own set of impossible circumstances. Our own NSPCC research shows that a much greater number of children are at risk of abuse than those known to statutory services. Our work with families is based on some of the best models of early intervention from around the world, and already we are beginning to see a difference for the children we support.
So early identification and early intervention - two principles the Scottish Government are clearly committed to - are crucial to the drive to protect children from harm. Put like this, perhaps we should see this week's increase in child protection registrations as a good start. The challenge now is how to embed early intervention into practice across universal and specialist services, to give every vulnerable child in Scotland a brighter future.
Chris Cuthbert will be speaking at NSPCC Scotland's Safer Childhood, Brighter Future - early intervention in practice Conference in Glasgow 24, 25 April
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