Last updated: 24.02.20

Child Neglect and Abuse in Nurseries

The sad truth around child neglect and child abuse is that they can occur even within spaces we perceive to be safe for our children. Nurseries are places we take our children to for the day, trusting the staff to protect our children from harm and risk. While the majority of nursery staff up and down the country do an outstanding job of looking after our little ones, there have been cases of singular individuals working in nurseries when they shouldn’t and have abused their position to prey on children. Here are some examples where issues have arisen within nurseries and how staff need to be vigilant against these sorts of people.

Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire

In 2014, bosses at a nursery in Rutherglen were alerted to “issues of discomfort” raised by staff members about the behaviour of one specific staff member – Alexander Mortimer. The internal managers didn’t escalate these claims to external managers or Mortimer himself, but following a case review this was found to be a major failing after an independent police raid, conducted separately from these claims, found Mortimer in possession of over 10,000 indecent images and over 500 indecent videos of children.

Although these images and videos were never taken within the nursery, the fact that he was able to secure a position working in this environment is concerning. The case review highlighted that Mortimer’s job interview for his position took just 10 minutes, with his appointment being made “with reservations”.

At the point of his arrest, Mortimer had been regularly looking after two brothers, aged two and three, after he had become friends with their mum and grandmother. Although it isn’t clear whether it was a contributing factor, it could be argued that his role as a nursery worker reassured the mother that Mortimer was, in fact, a trustworthy individual.

The case review was conducted by an independent local Child Protection Committee, who said that the lax nature of the organisations and other similar entities has allow abusers more freedom, and that senior management need to take complaints seriously or there could be issues with staff going over their heads to escalate behavioural concerns of other staff members.

Following the case review, the South Lanarkshire Council highlighted that there were key learnings to be taken away from this incident and that improves would be made. There were also positives to be found within the report, such as the confidence of staff to speak out about concerning behaviour. Its efforts like these which help to keep children safe, and it’s our duty to take these concerns seriously – something that the senior management in this case should have done.

Solihull, West Midlands

A shocking case emerged in 2017 surrounding a 28-year-old nursery worker operating in Solihull, who admitted to sexually abusing 18 children at two schools within the area where he worked.

Jamie Chapman, who also worked as a teaching assistant, committed the crimes between 2011 and 2016 during which he used Facebook to create fake profiles in order to get vulnerable young boys to send explicit images of themselves. These fake profiles posed as young females who were interested in the victims, which Chapman said he set up ‘out of boredom’ and things got ‘out of hand’. Once he had convinced the victims to send him images, he used them to blackmail a number of the boys into engaging in sexual acts. Chapman used a fake profile to convince one of the boys to meet up with him in person, where Chapman escalated the abuse significantly.

The police were able to trace information linked to the fake profiles to uncover Chapman’s identity and capture him, with a wealth of evidence to bring against him. Victim testimony played a key part in bringing a sentence against him, but the fact that he was able to harm these boys in the first place is abhorrent.

Child abuse is becoming more and more common on online platforms, giving abusers further access to victims and the opportunity to deceive them through fake profiles. It’s never been more important to understand the dangers of child abuse online and help children understand who could potentially take advantage of them through social media platforms. After starting online, abusers can escalate their behaviour and pressure their victims into meeting in person, which is when the abuse can take on a physical component.

Plymouth, Devonshire

All the way back in 2010, the story of Vanessa George’s systematic abuse of children at a nursery in Plymouth was condemned for a multitude of reasons, from poor regulation by Ofsted to low levels of staff training and a lack of proper oversight. George, aged 40, was working at a private nursery where she had access to toddlers who she was able to carry out her abuse due to her trusted position within the community.

Prior to her arrest, she had been found guilty of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace after showing other members of the nursery staff adult pornographic images and detailing graphic stories of her previous sexual acts. However, as she worked as a senior member of staff the other workers within the nursery found it difficult to challenge her behaviour due to the power imbalance.  

Working with an accomplice based in Manchester, Colin Blanchard, George used her mobile phone to take explicit images of the toddlers in her care and shared them amongst a group of other abusers as part of a pedophile ring.

The board chair of Plymouth Safeguarding Children Board, Jim Gould, placed the blame for this on the weak management of the nursery and lack of safeguarding training for all staff members. Other board members were unsatisfied by the inspections conducted by Ofsted, which appeared to operate as a ‘tick-box’ exercise rather than delving into the day-to-day operations which could have surfaced the abuse sooner through proper channels for raising concerns.

In response to this incident, the director of education and care for Ofsted stated that Ofsted take their regulatory role of nurseries extremely seriously, and that inspections are undertaken as set out in the relevant legislation. He followed this by saying:

"Some of the issues raised in the report require a wider debate on roles and responsibilities within the early years sector. It is important that lessons are learnt from this case."

If you’re looking to undertake safeguarding training to better understand the dangers posed to vulnerable children and how you can help to protect them, Virtual College offer online safeguarding training you can do whenever and wherever you want. Our safeguarding courses give you all the information you need to know around how to spot signs of child abuse and more. You can also check out our useful and informative downloadable resources, including this infographic on the signs of child abuse