EMMA was just 11 when she thought Santa was punishing her for being bad by not bringing her presents.

The little girl grew up in a low income household in Essex with her six siblings.

But from a young age she was abused mentally and physically by the people who were meant to be looking after her.

She was blamed for things that went wrong around the house and was convinced she was doing things in her sleep because she was made to confess.

As a result she was beaten by her parents.

On two occasions she was sent in to school with her hair shaved and remembers being covered in fleabites.

It led to sustained bullying by her peers.

Representatives from her school and social care became involved but Emma believes as her parents made her out to be a problem child her side of the story was initially overlooked.

Christmas was the only time she was a happy child and it was the one time of year she was treated as equal to her siblings.

But when she experienced her first Christmas away from her family, soon after she was taken into care, she did not receive any presents.

She still believed in Father Christmas and thought she was being punished.

The foster carer she was placed with said she didn’t want her there for Christmas because it was family time, so she was placed elsewhere and returned after.

She spent her teens living in a children’s home, followed by living with her abusive father.

Emma’s heartbreaking story is one of many across the county.

Recorded child cruelty and neglect offences in the UK continue to soar with crimes increasing by nearly a fifth in the last year alone, the NSPCC has found.

The charity has analysed police data for the country over the past five years and found child cruelty and neglect offences has risen every year.

There were 20,024 child cruelty and neglect offences recorded by police in 2018/19, which has more than doubled since 2013/14 where there were 9,518 crimes of this nature.

Essex Police recorded 273 crimes in 2018/19 more than five times the total of 53 in 2013/14.

Reports to police included extreme cases of when parents or carers deliberately neglected, assaulted, abandoned or exposed their child to serious harm and unnecessary suffering.

To raise awareness of child neglect and abuse the NSPCC has launched its Light For Every Childhood Christmas Appeal.

The appeal is calling for donations so it can be there for children suffering from neglect and abuse.

The charity’s Childline service is the only service there for children 24/7 during the upcoming festive period but it needs support. As part of the campaign, UK landmarks have been lit up in the charity’s trademark green.

The NSPCC says there are several potential reasons for the rise in child cruelty and neglect crimes.

This includes better police recording, increasing pressure on families and cuts in funding making it harder for authorities to offer early intervention services which tackle the causes of neglect.

But it says recorded police offences of this type don’t reveal the full picture of neglect in the UK because in many cases local authorities will step in before cases are reported as a crime.

In 2017/18, there were 29,113 children in the UK on a child protection plan or register for concerns involving neglect.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC said: “To see year after year the number of neglect and cruelty offences rise so dramatically is disturbing.

“Greater public awareness and improvements in police recording could be factors but deeper societal issues such as increasing pressure on parents and a lack of investment in early intervention services, are leaving more children vulnerable and exposed to pain and suffering.

“Whatever the reasons for the rise cruelty to children is never OK, it is vital children always have a place they can go to seek help and support, day and night.

Just £3 pays for Childline to answer a call with a neglected or abused child. To donate visit www.nspcc.org.uk.

Adults concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000, or email help@nspcc.org.uk.