BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Friday, 25 January, 2002, 19:11 GMT
Charity's child cruelty crusade
NSPCC poster campaign
A campaign urged parents to think before lashing out
As it emerges the Victoria Climbie inquiry uncovered damning evidence about the NSPCC's role in events leading up to the eight-year-old's death, BBC News Online looks at the charity's history.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is probably as well known today for its hard-hitting publicity campaigns as for its case work.

It is the UK's only voluntary organisation with statutory powers to intervene in child cruelty cases - NSPCC officers are able to seek care and supervision orders from courts.

And it has not shied away from using graphic images of battered children to raise public awareness of the issue.

One recent campaign showed children's idols such as sporting stars covering their eyes rather than witnessing abuse, while another poster showed a matchstick with the caption: "A baby's arm isn't much stronger."

The charity's history is indelibly linked with the development of child protection laws, some of which it helped to shape.

'Human animal'

The NSPCC was founded in 1889 by a Yorkshireman, the Reverend Benjamin Waugh, who saw first-hand the suffering of children in his work as a minister in London's East End.

Victorian England was a dangerous place for children, who were often forced into hazardous work and abused or neglected at home.

Alan Shearer shielding his eyes rather than witness child abuse
Alan Shearer featured in the NSPCC's Full Stop campaign
And while cruelty to animals was prosecutable, children had no such defence under Victorian law.

It was the case of a young American girl, Mary Ellen McCormack, which first inspired the notion of an agency protecting children's rights.

Beaten daily, Mary had no protection under US law until her case was taken up by the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Its founder Henry Bergh successfully petitioned the US Supreme Court on her behalf, arguing a "human animal", should have the same protection as any other animal.

Early child protection laws
1889 - Police given power to arrest abusers/enter homes, working guidelines, begging banned
1894 - Children able to testify in court, mental cruelty recognised, offence to deny sick child treatment
1904 - Inspectors granted new powers to remove children from abusive homes
1908 - Juvenile courts introduced, new child life insurance rules, sex abuse in families becomes legal matter rather than church intervention
The case led to the foundation of a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in New York.

A visiting English banker, Thomas Agnew, formed a similar organisation in Liverpool, and news of his work reached Rev Waugh, who in 1884 founded the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Waugh worked to raise awareness, by lobbying government and publishing for the first time detailed reports of abuse and neglect cases.

Other regional branches followed, and in 1889 the organisation was renamed the NSPCC, with Queen Victoria as Royal patron.

That year also saw the first legislation against cruelty to children, popularly known as "the Children's Charter".

Successive legislation gave NSPCC inspectors, informally known as "cruelty men", powers to remove children from abusive homes with a JP's consent, and to supervise probation orders relating to child abuse or neglect.

Ambitious target

As the organisation grew, so did efforts to raise funds from sources other than subscriptions and legacies.

From the early days of NSPCC flag days and Children's Sunday - the forerunner of today's annual Children's Day - the charity moved on to radio appeals and was one of the first to screen appeal films in cinemas.

Work of the NSPCC
Family centre work
Special investigation projects
Risk assessment
Sits on child protection committees
National training centre
Produces materials for professionals
Campaign work
Lobbies Parliament
Officers can bring care and supervision proceedings before courts under Children's Act 1989
Post-war, the NSPCC made increasing use of television as a medium to get its message across.

Recent decades have also seen a shift in the charity's work, moving away from inspectors acting alone towards advisory services and child protection teams.

And for the first years of the new millennium the NSPCC has set itself the most ambitious target yet.

The Full Stop campaign, launched in 1999, aims to end child cruelty completely within a generation.

Certainly a formidable challenge to overcome, but the charity takes heart from the words of the National Commission of Inquiry into the Prevention of Child Abuse.

After two years of study, this concluded: "Child abuse and neglect can almost always be prevented ... provided the will to do so is there."

But recent events suggest the success and reputation of such a large charity may have allowed mistakes to be made.

The inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie heard that an NSPCC family centre failed to take action for seven months after her case was referred to them.

The charity has also denied allegations that its records about the girl had been falsified.

Critics say it is time the charity took a long, hard look at itself.

See also:

08 Dec 00 | UK
All for a good cause?
30 Apr 00 | Health
Anti-battering campaign launched
17 Mar 99 | UK
Child cruelty calls soar
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories