A training programme in child protection, which includes dental neglect as a core component, is now being rolled out across South Yorkshire Police. Thousands of police officers in the region, as well as support staff and other stakeholders, are being taught to understand why a lack of dental care is potentially a neglect issue and what actions they should take when they have concerns.
Jenny Harris, a consultant in Community Paediatric Dentistry with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry’s
(BSPD) vice president designate, is delivering the dental aspect of the training on behalf of BSPD.
Her contribution is part of a one day ‘Child Matters’ course which trains police officers to recognise all aspects of child neglect. The hope is that Child Matters may be adopted by police forces throughout England and Wales, reducing the number of children who suffer abuse or go missing.
Dental neglect is included in one of seven different categories that are a potential child protection issue. Delegates will be taught to recognise, document and, where appropriate, to take action so that neglect is addressed. In order to ensure the entire South Yorkshire force is trained, close to 80 separate courses of Child Matters are to be run starting this week until March 2022.
The Child Matters training is centred on an online tool licensed by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) specifically created for South Yorkshire Police. The initiative is the brainchild of Detective Sergeant Kath Coulter. The idea arose after the force carried out an audit of how child neglect cases were investigated and handled. “We concluded that our staff did not always have the knowledge or training to recognise different types of neglect. We tended to see child protection as a social care issue rather than a police matter.”
“With the support of Assistant Chief Constable Dan Thorpe I developed training around different aspects of neglect so that our officers could investigate in a proportionate and informed way and ensure the best outcome for children.”
Possible outcomes might include:
- Initiating support for the parents so a child gets the care he or she needs
- Increased support for the parents who are not coping
- Prosecution of parents or carers who are neglecting their children.
She added, “Two of our local authorities have rewritten their neglect strategies as a result of this work and we are already getting interest from other forces.”
The value of alerting the police to child protection concerns is that they are legally empowered by Section 17 of PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act) to go into properties, if they believe that a child is at risk. Social workers do not have the same powers which can inhibit a swift response to neglect concerns.
DS Coulter said that when a dentist had a concern about a family and the social care route was not delivering a result to protect the child, they could contact the police. “It’s a case of stepping up so that concerns can be addressed in a timely way.”
Part of the training involves viewing and assessing footage from police body cameras. DS Coulter said, “It’s soul-destroying to see how these children are in such a unfair situation. But if we can stem neglect at a young age then we can stem the exploitation and risk that they may be exposed to as these young people grow up.”
Acknowledging that the Rotherham child exploitation scandal still casts a shadow, she said that they were resetting the work around neglect in South Yorkshire. “We want to make it one of the safest places in the country for children and young people.”
Jenny Harris commented, “Kath has a real passion and vision for protecting children and has drawn a great team together. It is good to see dental health included alongside general health as an important piece in the child protection jigsaw. I am optimistic that Child Matters will make a difference.”
DS Coulter also has high hopes for the Child Matters training. “My passion is helping children and young people. Every child should be loved and feel safe. I want to make sure that a good life is open to every one of them.”