Schools Prompt Referrals of Vulnerable Children

One of the hidden consequences of the Covid-18 pandemic has been a fall-off in the number of vulnerable children being referred to social services. This is the view of Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, who has called for increased investment to help services including youth workers identify and engage with at-risk children who have slipped through the net during the lockdown.

An estimated 2 million children in England live in homes affected by the “toxic trio” of domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse or mental health problems. The Children’s Commissioner Vulnerability Report in 2018 stated that 85% of local authority spending on children’s services goes to those deemed to be already “in need”, and that there are a further 1.6 million disadvantaged children who receive no structured support at all. With thousands of additional children removed from sight during the coronavirus lockdown the Commissioner fears there is a huge black hole in the resources available to help these vulnerable children.

Speaking to the BBC, Anne Longfield said she expects an increase in the number of referrals to social services from schools and teachers, who are on the frontline in identifying children at risk: “After the school six-week holidays it’s always the case that there are spikes in referrals to social services for children so, after six months, we should expect there to be a really significant increase in the number of children who there are concerns about.”

In another BBC interview Chief Constable Simon Bailey highlighted a misleading 25% drop in the number of child sexual abuse cases reported to police between April and August, commenting: “Those children that would have been exposed to those adverse experiences during lockdown, it is only going to emerge when they spend time within the safe environment of a school, in contact with their teachers, who are very, very good and adept at identifying those signs – the indicators that something is not right within that child’s life.”

Supt Chris Truscott, of South Wales Police, agreed there were limited opportunities during lockdown for vulnerable children to disclose harmful behaviour, which would start to come to light only now schools were back: “If they were vulnerable before the pandemic, then the likelihood is that vulnerability will have increased over that period of time.”

Responding to the comments a government spokesperson said: “The safety and wellbeing of the most vulnerable children has always been our priority, which is why throughout the pandemic schools, nurseries and colleges remained open to them…..Our advice for schools is clear that they should continue to identify and report any abuse or harm for children in schools as well as those learning remotely.”

The Children and Family Law departments at Bretherton Law have been helping families in Hertfordshire for over 50 years, offering professional, experienced and sympathetic advice to those in need. We are proud to be accredited by the Law Society in Family and Children Law, and are members of Resolution, the organisation representing family lawyers and other professionals in the field.

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