5.16 Harm to Animals and Possible Implications for Children (IA Issues)
There is growing research base in the United Kingdom to suggest that if a child is cruel to animals this may be an indicator that serious neglect and abuse have been inflicted on the child. While recent research in the UK suggests that animal abuse by children is quite widespread, in a minority of more extreme cases it appears to be associated with abuse of the child, or subsequent abusive behaviour by the child.
Where serious animal abuse has occurred in a household there may be an increased likelihood that some other form of family violence is also occurring, and that any children present may also be at increased risk of abuse.
Acts of animal abuse may in some circumstances be used to coerce, control and intimidate women and children to remain in, or be silent about, their abusive situation. The threat or actual abuse of a pet can prevent women leaving situations of domestic violence.
Sustained childhood cruelty to animals has been linked to an increased likelihood of violent offending behaviour against humans in adulthood Where an animal has been abused there may in some circumstances be an increased likelihood that the adults and children in the household will have been bitten or attacked by the abused pet.
If a child exhibits extreme aggressive or sexualised behaviour toward animals this may in some cases be associated with later abuse of other children or Adults at Risk unless the behaviour is recognised and treated.
From these and other studies it appears that animal abuse can be a part of a constellation of family violence, which can include child abuse and domestic violence. However, this does not imply that children who are cruel to animals necessarily go on to be violent adults and adults who harm animals are not necessarily also violent to their partners and/or children. Investigation and/or assessment are key to determining whether there are any links between these factors and the possible risks to the safety and welfare of children, adults and animals.
Police enquire as to any history of pet abuse at attendance of every Domestic Incident as part of the DASHH Risk Assessment process.
Professionals who have concerns that abuse is happening to children should refer such concerns to the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) or Police where there are concerns of immediate harm. Failure to do so may put a child at risk.
The MASH will carry out checks to determine if the child is known to local agencies or if the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan.
An Assessment must be undertaken and may lead to a Strategy Discussion and a Section 47 Enquiry.
The safety and welfare of children are paramount and any concerns must be shared and consulted about.
When in the course of their work members of all the agencies from the Norfolk Safeguarding Board come across situations where animals are being maltreated or harmed, they must refer the matter to the local RSPCA services.
If there are any concerns that the safety of a child or animal may be jeopardised if the person is informed about the intention to make the referral, it is not necessary to tell them but to refer directly to the RSPCA.
In the case of all agencies, it is good practice to provide feedback about outcomes of referrals and any actions taken.
Working Together 2015 gives clear guidance to Children’s Services about timescales and feedback. (Please see the Referrals Procedure in this manual for further details).
Witness statements in the course of any actions in court by any agency may be needed. Work with a family or household may be continuing over a period of time requiring the different agencies to remain in regular contact, sharing information about progress.
In all instances the balance between the safety and welfare of the child and the animals and the rights to confidentiality of all concerned must be kept under careful review.
The Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board’s inter agency training programmes will be available to RSPCA staff through the NSCB Safer Programme (intro level training).