Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, has published an analysis of the extent of child vulnerability around the country, warning that much of it is hidden from sight under lockdown.
These local area profiles help national government and councils identify how many vulnerable children there are in each local authority area. They also highlight groups at heightened risk during the coronavirus emergency, such as those in overcrowded or inadequate accommodation, with fragile parents, young carers, or without internet access. This project remains the only comprehensive data on all risks to children in England.
Hundreds of thousands of children in England are living with a cocktail of secondary risks that Covid-19 may exacerbate: lack of food, neglect, domestic abuse, substance abuse, homelessness, sofa-surfing or living in cramped living conditions, and parental mental health problems.
The coronavirus crisis brings into sharp focus both the dangers of vulnerable children falling through gaps in services and policy, and the value of good data from the front line in order to identify where help is needed. The Children’s Commissioner is calling for more help to identify children at risk as the crisis unfolds, especially those who may not be getting help as social work and other services are pared back.
Lockdown prevents usual ways of identifying children at risk
The great majority of children with a social worker are not attending school, and other community hubs – such as doctor’s surgeries, youth centres, children’s centres and libraries – are closed. The Secretary of State for Education has written to school leaders and local authorities setting out the importance of encouraging vulnerable children into school.
In order to give local services some of the missing critical intelligence they need to know on which families may not be coping and need help, real-time data needs to be gathered from the police on domestic abuse call-outs, children going missing or county lines activity. Data can also be garnered from the NHS on births and A&E attendances, from applications for Universal Credit, or from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on families applying for homelessness support.
Anne Longfield said: “I applaud the efforts of some schools and councils to ensure vulnerable children are still being visited by teachers or social workers. I’d like to see this extend throughout the country.”
“Our figures on local need lay bare the extent and nature of child vulnerability in each area, and the extraordinary pressures on some councils to try and protect them all.”
“I believe that with the right will, government – local and national – could ensure that all vulnerable children are seen and contact is maintained, harnessing if necessary the efforts of suitable volunteers, those from services which are currently closed or who are recently retired from child-facing work.
“It is essential that children who need help are identified and given the help they need.”
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