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Time to protect our children; The safety of children is regarded by parents as the most important single issue facing us today. But many believe not enough is being done to protect them. Now The Western Mail joins forces with the NSPCC to launch the next phase of its Full Stop campaign. Joanne Atkinson reports.

Byline: Joanne Atkinson

THE nation's shocked reaction to the murders of Holly Wells, Jessica Chapman and Milly Dowler has put the issue of ``stranger danger'' at the top of parents' fears. But this understandable concern at the threat to children from an unknown person hides a far more common risk to youngsters - in the home. The results of a survey released in conjunction with the next stage of the NSPCC's Full Stop campaign show that almost three-quarters of those questioned in Wales believe ending child abuse killings is now one of the most important issues for the Government to act on - but few know that parents and other family members are more likely to kill a child. Latest government figures show that, out of 98 children killed last year, the child's parent was the principal suspect in three out of four cases. Despite the high proportion of child murders in Britain committed by parents, nearly two-thirds (63pc) of those questioned thought someone outside the family was most likely to kill a child. Only 11pc named the parents as the most likely killers, with 19pc citing family/step family as common child killers. But the survey revealed recognition that child killers were likely to be known by their victims. Relatively few people asked (17pc) considered strangers the most likely killers. Seven out of 10 regarded people who are known to their child victims as being most likely to kill a child. Understanding of where children are most likely to be deliberately killed was mixed.Around half believed children were more likely to be deliberately killed either in the street or in parks and other public places, and about two-fifths believed they were most likely to be killed in the home.

The NSPCC has submitted a package of proposals to the Victoria Climbie Inquiry to help prevent more child abuse tragedies.

Victoria was aged only eight when she was murdered two years ago by Marie Therese Kouao, Victoria's greataunt and boyfriend Carl Manning.

Her suffering - 128 separate injuriesto her body were counted after she endured months of torture and abuse - still has the power to shock.

Pathologist Professor Joe Sibert of the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff said it was the worst case of sustained child abuse he had come across in his 34-year career.

Yet somehow her case managed to slip through the safety net set up forchildren like her by the police and social services in London.

NSPCC Cymru/Wales director Greta Thomas said, ``The child protection system in this country is at a turning point.

``Social services and other agencies do a magnificent job in protecting tens of thousands of children every year.

``But there are too many instances where poor communication and joint working between professionals from different disciplines have failed to prevent a child abuse tragedy.

``The Government must reform the child protection system to make it fit for the 21st Century.

``We need to ensure that no more children slip through the net.''

The poll shows overwhelming support for the child protection proposals suggested by the NSPCC.

Four in five people agreed that measures to ensure professionals work together as a team to protect children would help reduce the number of children killed each year, while 60pc said the provision of more training and resources for them is important.

In the wake of the murder of 10-yearolds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, seven in 10 parents said they were now more concerned about their children's safety, while 68pc felt under more pressure to supervise them.

Three-fifths are now less likely to let them go out to play with friends.

Of those questioned, mothers are now more likely to be worried about the safety of their children compared with fathers (75pc compared with 66pc) and richer parents are less likely to be worried than those in low-income groups (63pc compared with 80pc).

Non-parents have also been affected by recent events. More than half of under-45s without children are now more worried about bringing children up in Britain, and one in eight say they have even been put off having children at all.

Those questioned said they were now much more wary of child abuse deaths in Britain, with 84pc more likely to keep an eye out for possible child abuse or the safety of children.

Parliament has expressed alarm at child killings in the UK, with 361 MPs calling on the Government to end the toll of child abuse deaths.

Of 2,000 motions put down in the last session, this was the highest number of signatures on any domestic issue.

The NSPCC is calling for urgent child protection reforms to help cut child killings by half over 10 years.

No one would deny the concern felt by the public, children's charities and the authorities at the level of child abuse in this country.

But the question remains, does the will to take effective action exist to end this horrifying abuse?

# The Mori poll questioned 1,002 people aged over 15 in Great Britain between September 13 and 16.

What we owe youth

THE NSPCC is calling for: # A target for reducing child abuse deaths - halving the figure over 10 years and to adopt an integrated strategy for achieving this; # Provision of services that involve children in decisions, provide greater confidentiality and enable them to get help; # Provision of a Child Safeguarding Board to provide a stronger national focus for child protection; # Statutory Area Child Protection Committees with a stronger and clearer role; # Multi-agency Child Safeguarding Teams to ensure professionals work together more effectively; # A National Training Strategy to ensure those who work with children have the skills to do the job; # The systematic review of all child deaths to prevent children dying from abuse and neglect, and establishment of Child Death Review Teams.
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 14, 2002
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