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Listening to Children Must Be at the Heart of Child Protection

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There is a sad and recurrent theme in many of the worst child abuse scandals - of a child's voice not having been heard. Poor Daniel Pelka, seen looking through bins for food at his school but whose suffering at the hands of his mother and partner was not discovered until it was tragically too late.

Hamzah Khan, whose body was found two years after his death in his mother's squalid, rubbish filled home. Keanu Williams, a defenceless child, invisible to the authorities, while the lies of deceitful parents prevailed. Time and again when we study Serious Case Reviews or hear from those who suffered at the hands of abusers eventually brought to justice, we uncover how children tried to speak out but were not heard or taken seriously. For every child who is the subject of a child protection plan by local children's services, we know there are another 8 who are at risk of abuse.

ChildLine is there 24/7 for children with no one else to turn to - children who struggle to be heard but have an anxiety to share. Often those who call us say they have tried to make themselves heard elsewhere. Many people have reported abuse before but no action was taken. So when young people have demonstrated the courage to speak up, surely the nation should demonstrate similar courage in how we respond.

What we hear through ChildLine is a fabulous source of information about vulnerable children in the UK.

Last year we carried out almost 300,000 counselling sessions with young people. The insights they provide into their lives, into the risks they face, the experiences they have been through and how they respond to harm and, at times, terrible neglect are shocking, humbling and inspiring.

We think what children tell ChildLine offers such an important window on what it's like to grow up in current times, that we should share not only the aggregate picture of what young people are telling us, but we should examine in more depth, with experts, why they feel as they do.

It's common practice for public and the media to track house prices, the level of inflation, growth in the economy. We should be tracking the attitudes of vulnerable young people with similar attention. The UK is fortunate to have access to such intelligence through ChildLine - a safe space to hear the young voices no one else is listening to. We should be acting on what we hear.

And it's pretty alarming. Far too many children are suffering in this country and the ChildLine annual report shows the extent of this. A 41% increase in contacts about self-harm and a 33% increase in young people feeling suicidal are statistics that cannot be ignored. To hear that 4,500 children are so desperate they are considering taking their own lives is heart breaking.

Over the coming months we will publish an additional three spotlight reports, focussing in on the latest and most pressing issues faced by children.

Everyone, from policy makers, parents and people involved in supporting children should sit up and listen to what children are telling us and ask themselves why they feel this way, and why they feel they must turn to ChildLine for help.

Listening out for children is right at the heart of keeping children safe. Young people are willing to share their anxieties. Technology is making it easier for them to do so rapidly. ChildLine counsellors are experts at capturing how they feel. Are the rest of us ready to respond?

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