- Every week at least one child dies from cruelty. (NSPCC).
- Over half of UK households have a pet but the RSPCA successfully convicts just under 2,000 people of cruelty to animals per year. Again, this statistic has changed little over the past decade although the number of complaints of cruelty has continued to rise.
- 89% of victims of domestic violence are women (source: Home Office National Report 2005) and one in four women suffers domestic violence at some point during their lives, with two women per week being killed by their partners. Furthermore, 750,000 children witness violence between their parents or carers (source: NSPCC).
- Since its launch in 2004 the Dogs Trust Freedom Project in London has fostered over 115 dogs (and has arranged care for 82 cats) to help women and their children flee domestic violence situations and find temporary or permanent accommodation knowing their dog or cat is safe. The scheme proved so popular that the charity launched a similar scheme in Yorkshire in 2005. Since its launch the Yorkshire Freedom Project has fostered over 85 dogs in the North East - both schemes allowing over 250 families get their lives back on track.
The RSPCA has established a protocol for reporting concerns that may arise from a home visit, particularly with respect to child welfare.
Case study one: The RSPCA prosecuted a young woman for continually abandoning animals. The inspector worked closely with the Local Authority anti-social behaviour unit to whom the woman was already known. When she became pregnant, social services were concerned about the safety of her child as she was associating with a known rapist and some paedophiles. Social services arranged for the RSPCA to attend a case conference alongside other agencies and the RSPCA proposed that any living thing, animal or child, in the woman's care was at severe risk. After proceedings, the grandmother was eventually granted permanent custody of the child.
Case study two: Following concerns from a school in Nottingham about a pupil who often missed school and was dirty when he did attend, an investigation by a GP and school nurse found his mother to be an animal hoarder. A child protection team placed the child on the Child Protection Register and put a team together to address the situation. This included the doctor, school staff, child welfare officers, housing officers and RSPCA. Following a case conference the mother agreed to co-operate, the animals were rehomed and the site visits followed up with improvements noticed each time. As a result of inter-agency communication, the lives of a neglected child and pets were changed for the better.
Links Group Achievements
Established in 2001, The Links Group membership includes the Association of Chief Police Officers, Blue Cross, British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), British Veterinary Association (BVA), Dogs Trust, Intervet UK Ltd, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), Paws for Kids, Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), Refuge, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ScottishSPCA), Women's Aid, The Young Abusers Project, Wood Green Animal Centre and the British Veterinary Nurse Association.
A great deal has been achieved since the Group's inception including:
- Protocols for information sharing are being explored to allow cross-reporting between the police and child and animal protection organisations.
- Pet fostering schemes have been established in many areas, for example Dogs Trust's Freedom Project in London and in Yorkshire and similar schemes from the RSPCA and ‘Paws for Kids', to enable victims of domestic violence to leave home without fear of their animals being harmed.
- The development and distribution of comprehensive and informative literature, such as the ‘Understanding the Links' and ‘UK Pet Fostering Services for Women Fleeing Domestic Violence' leaflets to communicate the facts.
- An RSPCA inspector training programme has been established with the NSPCC to encourage greater cross-reporting.
- The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Guide to Professional Conduct now contains a section on ‘Animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence. The section gives advice on breaching confidentiality under certain circumstances and contains a link to the NSPCC booklet ‘Understanding the Links'.
A programme of veterinary undergraduate training days, tackling the subject of animal abuse and non-accidental injury has been established and implemented annually at veterinary colleges throughout the UK by animal health company, Intervet, one of the founding organisations involved in The Links Group.