Safeguarding: Councils braced for spike in referrals as ‘Covid lockdown cloak’ is lifted

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

There was an 18 per cent fall in the number of referrals to children’s social care services at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown, government figures have revealed.

Children’s social care received 41,190 referrals between April and June this year – down by almost one-fifth when compared to the same period over each of the past three years.

The number of children who started to be looked after is also down by about a third year-on-year with only 1,640 children being taken into care during the April to June period this year. The figures have been published by the Department for Education (DfE, 2020).

It comes after the NSPCC’s helpline reported receiving contacts from more than 22,000 adults between April and June – with May seeing around 8,300 calls alone. Concerns being reported included about parental behaviour, physical and emotional abuse, neglect and sexual abuse.

Local councils are bracing themselves for a spike in safeguarding referrals in the coming weeks as children return to schools, many for the first time in more than five months.

The Local Government Association (LGA) – which represents local councils across England and Wales – has raised what it calls its “deep concerns” about falling referrals.

The LGA is concerned that long-term funding cuts had already led to the scaling back of early help services even before the pandemic hit. It wants the government to use the forthcoming Spending Review to give councils the resources to “invest in preventative, universal and early help services”.

The DfE’s figures cover the period from April 20 to June 14 and show that the number of referrals from schools decreased by 77 per cent, while referrals from the police increased by 16 per cent (when compared to the same period in 2018).

For example, this means that in the weeks May 18 to 24 and June 1 to 7, there were 1,360 referrals from schools – compared to 5,960 referrals across the same two weeks in 2018.

Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Some children and their families will need significant interventions, but others will just need some extra help to get through a difficult period. It will be essential that the right services can be there to support them and help them cope. It is vital that councils have the funding they need to support children, young people and families during the current phase of the crisis and beyond.”

Children’s charity Barnardo’s has warned that many vulnerable children have been isolated and hidden during the lockdown and over the summer.

Chief executive Javed Khan said: “These figures show that many vulnerable children have been hidden from view by the cloak of the Covid-19 lockdown. Teachers, health visitors and other professionals have not had the opportunity to identify children at risk and refer them for further support in the normal way.

“But now with children returning to school, it’s very likely we will see a significant rise in referrals, including for children who have suffered bereavement and anxiety – especially in BAME communities – and for children who have been trapped in unsafe homes.

"It’s absolutely vital that children’s services have the resources and capacity they need to respond to those identified as needing support without having to wait until they hit crisis point.”

Barnardo’s has recently launched its See, Hear, Respond programme, funded by the DfE and delivered in partnership with almost 80 national and local charities across England.

See, Hear, Respond is there to support children with anxiety disorders, whether they be general or related to specific issues. It is also looking to support children transitioning to secondary school as well as those who have been excluded from mainstream schools, among others. Teachers and other professionals are being urged to refer children and families who may need support.

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