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Agenda: Time to step up and speak out for the sake of vulnerable children

A 44% increase in calls from Scotland to the child protection charity NSPCC helpline sounds like shocking news, as if a tidal wave of abuse was sweeping the nation.

Fortunately this does not constitute a wave of abuse; rather it reflects a growing awareness of the need to protect children.

Abuse and neglect afflict children all around us every single day, but too often nobody speaks out.

Strange as it sounds, an increase in calls is good news. It means we're looking out for one another and standing up for those who are least able to reach out for help.

The flip side is that there are so many more for whom action has not yet been taken.

Our research tells us that, on average, almost one in five children in every secondary school classroom has suffered serious abuse or neglect at some point in their life.

But if you only knew a home filled with violence, a home where you should be neither seen nor heard - where a bath and a warm dinner were a rarity - how would you know you deserved more? And if you did know, who would you tell?

We are so afraid of getting it wrong, of exposing ourselves to a backlash, that we forget to truly weigh up the alternative - the hungry, cold, lonely child; the child terrified to go home; the child too afraid even to cry.

This isn't scaremongering - it's fact. Cast your mind back to your own childhood, to the isolated child who was perpetually hungry and whose clothes were never clean; think about how many times even now you see something that disturbs you.

So many good people, filled with the best of intentions, fail to act when faced with indicators of child abuse.

We know that identifying children who are at risk can be difficult, and it's natural to worry that you might be mistaken.

That said, it is absolutely vital that you trust your instincts. Once you have discussed your worries with one of our professional counsellors, it's no longer your responsibility - it's ours.

Our counsellors are trained and supported to assess information they are given, and make carefully considered decisions about further action.

You can trust us to make the right decision on your behalf.

We can't assume that "if there was a real problem, someone else will have seen it", because time and time again tragedies have played out that showed everybody was thinking the same thing. But, devastatingly, no-one took action.

When we see parents violently attacking each other, evidence of drug and alcohol abuse, children who clearly need to be better fed and looked after than they are, and children whose behaviour quite simply rings alarm bills, we need to be prepared to be the "someone else" who takes a stand.

Of course, there can be guilt - the fear that you are heaping misery on a family that is already struggling - but we need to address that mindset.

Raising the red flag is an invitation for help and an opportunity for change, not a condemnation. We must "see parent: think children".

Our "Don't Wait" slogan is a call to action that recognises the impact of delayed intervention.

Of those who did speak out last year, 50% waited more than a month and a further quarter had delayed reporting concerns for more than six months.

No-one wants to believe that a parent could hurt or deprive their children, but it happens.

Blinkering ourselves to the reality doesn't change that fact; it just prolongs and intensifies their suffering.

In an insecure, unsafe world, where those who should be caring for and protecting you are the source of your misery, taking action is the responsibility of each and every one of us.

The true story of our helpline figures is the number of people in our communities who are brave enough to step up and speak out. Be one of those voices.

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