School Closures Stopped Vulnerable Children Accessing Safeguarding, New Data Suggests

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Tom Hunter

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3 minutes to read

Child Protection referrals from schools to local authorities have fallen by nearly a third during the pandemic, according to new ONS figures analyzed by the monitoring firm Dods.

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Children’s charities have warned that closing schools during lockdown periods means vulnerable children, who are usually identified at school, slip through the network and do not receive vital support.

Andrew Fellowes, head of policy at the NSPCC told PoliticsHome that he is “concerned that children who have experienced abuse, neglect and mental health issues during the pandemic may be missing out on the help and support they need.”

This is the first release of preventive referral figures to fully capture the period of coronavirus, during which schoolchildren in England were out of class for nearly half of the available days.

The total number of referrals decreased by about 24% at the beginning of 2021 compared to the previous year, at a time in the school year when the number of children seeking support is increasing naturally.

The government closed the majority of education places at the beginning of January, and they remained closed until pupils began returning to classes from early March.

Throughout this period, children’s charities have warned that there is a risk of missing out on protection issues due to a lack of face-to-face contact between pupils and education staff – often seen as the first line of defense in identifying children in need.

The NSPCC, which operates a helpline for reporting cases of children living with domestic violence, revealed last year that since the lockdown measures were introduced, they have seen a 49% increase in the number of calls from people raising concerns about a child in need.

A recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies also projected a £2 billion shortfall for councils over this financial year, which the Association of Child Services Directors – a membership organization representing children’s services leaders in local government across England – said forced them to. To deplete their reserves when they must “focus efforts on the ongoing impact of the pandemic and on helping children, families and communities recover.”

A cross-party committee of MPs also raised concerns last September that children “are likely to have experienced mental health difficulties, violence, including experiencing domestic violence and isolation” as referrals to schools decline during the closure.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said “every child should feel safe and protected” and they are investing in frontline charities, as well as providing £24m for regional recovery in children’s social care. They added that last week’s budget was to provide more funding to support mental health and launch Family Hubs.

The Department of Education also announced this summer that it would make £9.5 million of available funding available to up to 7,800 schools and colleges to train a faculty member to be a senior mental health leader for the academic year 21/22.

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