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Calls for urgent reform of child protection and early help services for young children and babies

The Nuffield Foundation has highlighted the impact of the pandemic on key services aimed at protecting children

The Foundation’s Protecting Young Children at Risk of Abuse and Neglect review studies data from the first lockdown which suggests that the COVID-19 lockdown measures increased abuse and neglect among newborns and infants. The report states the data evidences an increase in serious incidents involving child death or serious harm, where abuse or neglect is known or suspected. Serious incident notifications between April and September 2020 increased by 31% for children under on) and 50% for children aged one to five on the same period in 2019. This follows a decrease between 2018–19 and 2019–20 (DfE 2021).

The report states ‘“the pandemic has disrupted the usual pathways for referring children to services, meaning children at risk of abuse and neglect may be being missed. “These issues appear to be even more acute for infants and for babies born in the pandemic, with many children’s centres closing and health and GP check-ups coming via video link or telephone.”

Report co-author, Carey Oppenheim, said: “Over time, we have seen a shift away from provision of early support to help families who are struggling, towards later interventions that are more likely to separate families and which are more expensive to provide. Alongside this, there are young children at risk of abuse and neglect who need help and are not receiving it because they are not known to services. These concerns have been pulled into sharper focus by the pandemic, and its economic consequences are likely to mean more pressure on council budgets and services at exactly the point families need them most.

“At the same time, we cannot solve all the problems faced by young children through children’s social care services – social work and family justice are only one part of the solution. Poverty remains a significant risk factor for children and alleviating the financial pressure on families would make a difference in enabling young children to thrive, as would a more holistic and collaborative approach across public services and agencies.”

See the full review here.