A sharp rise in child welfare referrals being made from the NSPCC helpline to external agencies such as the police or children’s services in the East of England in the last year – against the backdrop of the pandemic – has been revealed by the child protection charity.
There were 5,694 referrals made by the helpline to external agencies in the region in 2020/21 – a 37% increase compared to 2019/20. Referrals are made when concerns reported to the helpline are considered serious enough to warrant further investigation.
The top reasons for referrals being made go unchanged, with concerns relating to parental and adult health and behaviour leading to 1,951 referrals to East of England-based agencies. This includes worries about parental alcohol and substance misuse, domestic abuse and parental mental health.
In fact, across the UK a record number of adults with concerns about children called the NSPCC in the last 12 months, as contacts to its helpline surged by nearly a quarter.
The service received nearly 85,000 contacts from April 2020 to March 2021, a 23% increase on the previous year, with 47% of these leading to a referral to an external agency such as the police or children’s services.
The figures echo concerns from the charity’s frontline teams that the pandemic has increased the risks of abuse and neglect, with children both more vulnerable and out of sight of people who can keep them safe.
The NSPCC is now warning that with most children back in schools and society, the hidden harms they experienced during the lockdowns will become visible.
The charity is calling for the Governments across the UK to invest in a positive future for children by ensuring their catch-up plans go beyond education.
In the short term, they must address the harm and trauma children may have faced in the past 12 months, but Governments must also use the opportunity to invest in keeping children safe and well in the future.
Sisters, Chloe* and Debra*, found a young boy crying on the kerb outside their home and called the NSPCC Helpline for advice. They stayed on the phone for three hours to ensure he was taken to safety.
Debra* said: “He told her (Chloe*) that he was scared of his mum – that she hits him and he’d been suicidal over it. He kept bursting into tears and explained he’d run away because he’d broken his TV and was worried about what his mum would do.
“I was really aware that Covid lockdown was affecting young people’s mental health and being stuck at home in abusive circumstances were making things worse.
“I called the number and felt confident doing it. Seeing how upset he was, I knew I was doing the right thing. The practitioner was very calm and pleasant and asked lots of questions about the situation. We wanted to get the right help and support and the NSPCC wanted to make sure he was safe.”
To build a better future for children, no matter where they live, the NSPCC is urging Governments to focus on prevention and protecting children from neglect and abuse both online and offline, delivering a supportive environment in the early years, and ensuring services are available to help children recover from traumatic experiences.