Last year, concerned members of the public contacted the charity’s Helpline every five minutes on average, with nearly 10,000 calls being so serious they needed urgent attention. One in three of these came from people living near the abused child and their action helped at least 7000 children.
However, the full scale of child abuse in communities is even higher. At least one in six calls from neighbours and others cannot be answered by overstretched Helpline counsellors, leaving many children at risk of serious harm.
Last year the Helpline received 95,000 calls but 15,000 went unanswered. Most people wait at least a month before calling to help a child, outnumbering those ringing on the same day by seven to one.
To that end, the NSPCC has announced a major expansion of its helplines to enable the charity to recruit and train more counsellors and encourage more people to take action sooner.
A £50m ‘Child’s Voice Appeal’ (childsvoiceappeal.org.uk) is being launched to help grow the service and ensure all these cries for help are covered. This is in addition to £30m already donated by the UK government, which recognises the importance of expanding the NSPCC’s helplines.
Recent calls included one about a nine-year-old boy who had the barrel of a gun placed in his mouth. In another a neighbour described a young girl being threatened with an axe by her father and a third involved a homeless twelve-year-old who was terrified of going to sleep in case he woke up to find his alcoholic mum dead.
In other calls neighbours have described seeing a young mother dangling her two-year-old child by the wrist from a second floor window, parents constantly screaming and swearing at their youngsters and many living in households where drugs are openly used. One shocked woman told how she went into a house where the floors were covered with rubbish and dog mess and the milk in a baby’s bottle had turned green because it was so old.
John Cameron, Head of the NSPCC Helpline, said, “Every day we deal with tragic stories of children who are living in the most heart-rending and often dangerous conditions. Many of them are so young they are helpless so their only hope is for someone to see how dreadful their lives are and take action to save them. When they do that we have to be sure we can take their calls.
“Not all children brought to our attention are at serious risk of harm, but many are in very distressing situations. We were asked to help one five-year-old girl who was so hungry she started eating toilet paper to block out the hunger pangs.”
One caller who saw three young children being violently beaten by their parents told a Helpline counsellor, “Please help them. I just want them to have a better future.”
John Cameron added, “It is outrageous that our country’s children continue to suffer such cruelty in 2008. Thankfully, there are many responsible neighbours who are looking out for these children. But we want more to join them and to call as soon as they suspect something is wrong. You might think it’s a difficult thing to make a call like that but in the vast majority of cases the people who rangÃ‚Â because they believed the matter was urgent were right.
“It only takes a few seconds to dial the 0808 800 5000 number and that could save a child’s life. Now we have to raise the money to make sure we play our part.”
Dame Mary Marsh, director and chief executive of the NSPCC said, “Our Full Stop Campaign has spurred millions of people to act in recent years. The Child’s Voice Appeal is a major step forward against child cruelty and will allow us to help many more children. Every £10 donated helps us answer another call which could save a child’s life.
“The UK government is committed to helping us develop the NSPCC Helpline and ChildLine. We are confident the public will now play its part in supporting the appeal – working together towards our ultimate aim of ending child cruelty.”