Published: 00:01, 04 December 2018
The number of child cruelty and neglect offences in Kent has increased five-fold in the last five years, startling figures from the NSPCC reveal.
There were 449 cases recorded by police in 2017/18, up from 85 in 2012/13 across the county.
Reports included extreme cases such as when a parent or carer deliberately neglected, assaulted, abandoned or exposed their child to serious harm.
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In total between 2012/13 to 2017/18, 1,215 offences have been reported.
A baby aged just 41 days was left disabled at the hands of his biological parents in 2016.
Little Tony Hudgell, now three-years-old, was admitted to hospital with multiple injuries and life-threatening septicaemia.
His injuries, caused by Jody Simpson and Anthony Smith, were so serious they eventually lead to both of his legs being amputated.
Following lifesaving hospital treatment, Tony - then Tony Smith - was adopted by another family.
Tony's adoptive mum, Paula Hudgell, says the increase in figures is "absolutely horrific".
"These new figures are showing nearly 17,000 children in a year (across the country) are abused or neglected by their own parents is totally unacceptable," the 51-year-old said.
"I feel quite angry that all these children are being failed and that there's no voice for them. They need this protection.
"There are way too many children ending up in these situations - I never realised it myself until we went down that route of fostering and adoption.
"I have just been horrified to realise that there are that many children that are being abused or neglected.
"It is very worrying that so many children are being hurt. It can't go on. The two people who should be loving that child unconditionally are failing to do so. It is just totally wrong.
Mrs Hudgell believes that part of the problem is that there is not enough help when children are born.
She said: "I know personally that children are not checked on as much as they used to be, that parenting classes and all those sorts of things because of cuts are just not being used now.
"Even when a child is born, it used to be that you were checked on every day for 10 days. You're lucky now if you're seen twice in those 10 days.
"And some of those people have no idea how to look after children; how to bring a child up; what their basic needs are.
"There are certainly failings along the way, and for those figures to rise as much as they have in the last five years is crazy."
The sentences given to those found guilty of such abuse has also been called into question by Mrs Hudgell.
"They are so lenient," she added. "It's almost like a slap on the wrist.
"They are not being punished if they are found guilty, and they can go on and do it again."
Detective superintendent Lee Whitehead of the police's protecting vulnerable persons command says protecting children from cruelty and neglect is "hugely important".
He said: "We are often not the first service to become aware of abuse so it is vital that we have strong links with frontline partners in social services, education and health together with all other agencies and charities who share information to safeguard children.
"In recent years there has been an increase in the public’s awareness of child cruelty including emotional, physical and sexual abuse as well as general neglect which has contributed to this increase.
"We continue to urge everyone who has contact with children or young people to be aware of the signs of abuse or neglect and share those concerns with the police.
"Children rarely disclose abuse or neglect themselves and if they do it will often be through unusual behaviour or comments.
"This makes identifying abuse very difficult for the police.
"Any concerns raised will be dealt with sensitively by Kent Police and partners in health and social services and while it may be nothing it is safer to share the information to ensure we can safeguard every child."
Peter Wanless, chief executive officer of the NSPCC, said: "It’s unclear exactly why the number of child neglect and cruelty offences has risen so dramatically, but greater public awareness and improvements in how police record offences could be factors, along with deeper societal issues.
"Whatever the reasons for the increase in child neglect there is something we can all do about it now, we need to be aware of vulnerable children and be ready to report it to the NSPCC or the authorities if we are concerned for their safety or wellbeing.
"We are appealing to the generous nature of the public to support our Light For Every Childhood Christmas appeal to help us be there for even more young people in need."