In the last 12 months NSPCC officers have recorded 20,000 cases of adults neglecting, mistreating or assaulting children.
Mum-of-eight Paula Hudgell, 52, and her husband Mark adopted five-year-old Tony after he was so badly abused by his birth parents that he was forced to have both legs amputated.
Both were jailed for a maximum of 10 years in 2018, but Paula and Mark – from West Malling, Kent – are campaigning for sentences for child cruelty to be increased – and have taken their fight to parliament to have “Tony’s Law” introduced.
On the day the NSPCC highlights a rise in reported cases of child cruelty and neglect, Paula writes about the moment she met Tony as a baby and how they had to make him a part of their family after learning of his horrific start to life:
Back in 2015, a social worker asked if I would go and visit a little four-month-old baby in hospital, who had had his limbs broken and was really poorly.
So I thought, “no problem, limbs mend”.
I went along to visit him and find out more about him. I met this tiny baby who was asleep and the nurse started flicking through his history, showing me the pictures – she said he would need life-long care.
At five weeks old, he had had all his limbs broken, dislocations of his ankle, his toes, his thumbs, multiple fractures – and he had been left without medical attention for up to 10 days – and by that time, his poor little body had just given up.
He developed sepsis – toxic shock – multiple organ failure, he also had a mass on the brain and ended up on life support.
If it was not for the amazing NHS working so quickly and tirelessly on him, he would not have survived.
It was not what I expected and I could not look at any more pictures.
We brought him home, still unsure if we had done the right thing. I was worried he was too fragile to be in the house along with our other seven children – who unlike Tony, are not adopted.
But we decided we would love and protect him and we made a pact not to wrap him up in cotton wool – we would treat him the same as all the others.
He soon settled in and within a week he was smiling away.
The Crown Prosecution Service were not going to prosecute his birth parents on grounds of insufficient evidence, and not knowing which parent caused the injuries, so I gathered the evidence myself and appealed the decision.
I started to think about the children who die, and have no one to fight for them, or the children who are not adopted and do not have anyone on their side.
Someone told me that if it had been GBH with intent, Tony’s birth parents would have got life sentences.
We began to campaign for terms for child cruelty to be increased.
At the beginning of the year we went to parliament where our MP handed over 12,000 handwritten signatures calling for this change in the law and then in February, Tom Tugendhat read out the first part, which was the ten minute rule bill, in parliament calling for Tony’s law.
There have been lots of meetings with barristers, the Crown Prosecution Service, as to how we can move forward with this.
We will not give up, we will fight so there is more protection for children.
Tony is incredible – he may have lost both of his legs but nothing stops him.
He shuffles around – he uses a wheelchair but he likes to be very independent. He climbs everything, does everything that a normal five-year-old would do now.
He started school in September, a mainstream school, settled in extremely well and has super exceeded all their expectations for him.
He is just an incredible little boy, full of life, doing very well and extremely bright.
Tony has undoubtedly changed our lives, he is such a joy to have around and all the kids treat him exactly the same as the others, they all idolise each other.
Tony has changed their outlook on life – they do not complain about things anymore and all pitch in to help.
They have become far more caring and accepting of other people now.
They have realised how hard things can be for other people now, too.
We are a real team now.