The small Shetland community helps reduce the risk of “horrific” cases of child neglect or abuse occurring here. That is according to NHS Shetland chief executive Ralph Roberts.
Speaking to The Shetland Times after the Child Protection Committtee’s (CPC) annual report was presented to councillors, he said there were “strong foundations” to build on and improve the service. The CPC involves health, social work, police and voluntary sector staff all focused on child protection.
One of the key findings was that despite fluctuations in the number of children referred to child protection services, a similar proportion in Shetland are known to be at risk of abuse and neglect as elsewhere in Scotland. However, Mr Roberts said it was difficult to draw comparisons with the UK mainland where there had been some “horrific” cases, but Shetland’s close-knit communities helped in the fight to prevent child abuse.
“One of the really positive bits about the small community is it is probably more difficult for this stuff [some of the cases reported in the national media] to happen,” he said. “And I think communities are more likely to identify that there is a problem before it becomes a problem.”
Mr Roberts added there was also less chance of a breakdown in communications between the different professional services. And while the small community sometimes made it hard to fulfill child protection roles discreetly, “we have some really strong foundations to build on because we have a small community.”
One of the most positive things about the last year, Mr Roberts said, was that there had been no referrals to the CPC in relation to child sexual abuse. One of the bigger concerns was emotional abuse of children and cases linked to parental misuse of drugs and alcohol.
Speaking at Wednesday’s SIC education and families committee meeting councillor Michael Stout spoke of his worry about the emotional damage suffered by children who were brought up in a family where there was alcohol and drugs misuse. He said the community’s attitude to drink, though not necessarily worse than elsewhere, was a problem. “It is about changing culture and attitude,” Mr Stout said.
Committee vice-chairman George Smith said it was essential that the council got this area right – as there had been “tragic consequences in other parts of the country” where councils had failed.
That sentiment was echoed by Mr Roberts, who after the meeting said: “You just cannot relax. You never know when something might happen. As a service we have to continually focus on [improving].”
According to the report a key theme this year has been the agencies involved in child protection reviewing their own practice and identify areas for improvement.
CPC chairwoman and director of children’s services Helen Budge said: “This report gives an excellent appreciation of the work of the CPC over the last year and an understanding of the issues around child protection.
“Staff across all agencies work hard on a daily basis to safeguard children in Shetland.”
Mr Roberts thanked all the staff involved for their hard work.