One in five schoolchildren has been abused or neglected

Nearly one in five secondary school children in the UK has been severely abused or neglected during childhood, an NSPCC study has found.

The results followed a survey of 2,275 children aged 11 to 17 and 1,761 adults aged 18 to 24.

The findings reveal that 18.6 per cent of the 11- to 17-year-olds said they had been physically attacked by an adult, sexually abused, or severely neglected. A quarter of the 18- to 24-year-olds also reported severe maltreatment during childhood.

Andrew Flanagan, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “Physical violence, neglect and forced sex are still harming the lives of hundreds of thousands of children, and most of it remains unreported. Successive governments have taken steps to improve child protection but local authorities are under strain providing child protection plans for only a small proportion of cases. The UK still faces a problem in tackling child abuse.”

The survey follows a previous study of 18- to 24-year-olds conducted by the charity in 1998. The two studies show a drop in the percentage of young people who have been beaten up, knocked down, choked or threatened with a weapon in childhood. The percentage of young people who reported being raped or coerced into sex acts before the age of 16 also fell from seven per cent in 1998 to five per cent in the current survey.

But the latest survey reveals that one in 10 children aged 11 to 17 suffered severe parental neglect at some point in their childhood, while nearly five per cent said they had been sexually assaulted either by an adult or a child.

There are currently around 46,000 children on a local authority child protection plan or register.

Flanagan said: “The scale and impact of child abuse requires a major shift towards earlier intervention in child protection. Teachers have a critical role to play in helping these children, as outside the home, school is the main place of safety for a child. They must be supported to identify possible signs of abuse and neglect, like feeling suicidal. They can then work with social workers, health and other professionals to prevent the long-term harm it causes.”

Shaun Kelly, head of safeguarding at Action for Children, said: “Awareness of the scale of this problem must prompt action; only then can we expect to see a meaningful fall in the numbers of children suffering at the hands of abuse and neglect.

“Even in this tough economic climate, it’s critical that local authorities continue to invest in early intervention services to end the suffering of vulnerable children across the UK.”

The government has announced it is awarding the NSPCC with a grant of £11.2m for 2011/15 to go towards the running of ChildLine and the NSPCC Helpline.