Matt Forde, national head of service for NSPCC Scotland,argues that the conviction of Rolf Harris reminds us how important it is to work together to protect our children
Recent court cases and investigations – involving Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile to name two – have seen child abuse quite rightly brought to the forefront of the public consciousness. While there is no doubt we are making progress, the road ahead is long and filled with challenges.
There is a moral imperative for agencies and individuals to unite in a commitment to give current and successive generations the best possible start in life. And it can’t be because child abuse costs the public purse – although we know it does – but because it’s the right thing to do.
In short, entrenching children’s rights in public service provision in Scotland is an investment in our future as a nation.
When we accept sub-standard experiences for any of our nation’s children, we’re really setting the bar very low for the country as a whole. Every human relationship is degraded when we consider adverse childhood experiences as just something that some children will inevitably face.
Every human relationship is degraded when we consider adverse childhood experiences as just something that some children will inevitably face
I happen to believe that the Scotland of the future – whatever that looks like after September – can only achieve its potential by demonstrating the value we place on the individual child.
We say we’re driven to improve life chances for Scottish children, but to make that a reality we need to innovate, look outside our professional silos and really change where we position childhood and family in terms of our decision making and priorities.
No one agency can hope to effect the necessary change in isolation. It’s a goal that requires every professional and individual to commit to placing a higher value on childhood. And by commit I mean examining our practices to see how we could do better and work together more effectively, and as individuals by speaking out when we have concerns, and being prepared to support children and young people, as well as those parents who need to do better.
Fortunately I believe that, as a nation, we have enormous potential and the will to make a definitive change for each and every child and family in Scotland. We have learned how adverse experiences scar individuals, both personally and in terms of their parenting, and we are continually learning how we can break those cycles of abuse and neglect.
Put simply, we need to stop blaming bad parents and start to look at how we can help them to do better – both professionally and as a community. By supporting young, vulnerable parents as they try to overcome the shadow of their own experiences, we can seek to interrupt abusive patterns as they pass through generations.
By bringing together ideas and experiences from different, yet intrinsically linked, worlds we can set our sights on more effective working, and ultimately better, safer and happier childhoods. Child protection workers know the daily challenges and worries about making the right call, yet in the field of mental health new knowledge and understanding promises a way of setting children on a path to a healthy, safe childhood by helping families. Together we have the potential to achieve for Scotland’s children.
We know that ending child abuse is an immense target, but I truly believe that it’s at the heart of how we build a better Scotland.
Matt Forde is national head of service for NSPCC Scotland.