Safeguarding Children is more important than ever during the Covid-19 lockdown. In normal times there’s oversight of children who are at risk of neglect or abuse, in our schools, nurseries, after school and sports clubs as well as through wider family and friendship circles. In these lockdown times children are far less visible and for some families, there are greater pressures within our homes.
Risk factors to consider for children & safeguarding during Covid-19
- Poverty – Where families are unable to meet the basic needs of children, this can, in some cases, lead to an increased likelihood of abuse, neglect and harm During the Covid-19 outbreak, where paid work is threatened or lost or where families are forced to isolate, this risk of poverty increases and challenges the ability of families to be able to follow Government health advice.
- Support networks – Support networks provide help in being able to manage and overcome difficulties and challenges. Due to current social distancing measures, the ability of children and families to access traditional, face-to-face, social networks will be hampered and new means may need to be explored to retain contact as an important protective factor.
- Accommodation – During the Covid-19 outbreak, the exposure of children and families to unsuitable accommodation will increase as adults may work from home and members of the household are unable to be outside
- Abuse and harm – Different types of abuse and harm are likely to be more prominent during Covid-19. This does not mean that risk will definitely increase when working with pre-existing concerns. However, practitioners should show curiosity to explore how the risk may become exacerbated.
- Domestic abuse – Emerging evidence from statutory and voluntary agencies across the UK has emphasised the increased risks of domestic abuse, with Refuge reporting a 25 per cent increase in calls and online requests since the lockdown began in March 2020. The importance of safeguarding children who are experiencing domestic abuse has not diminished during the Covid-19 crisis.
- Substance abuse – Unhealthy coping mechanisms can involve a reliance on substances that provide relief and escapism by adults and children alike. Substances alter the behaviour of parents and create a lack of safety for children and young people. It is important to understand how families are managing the stresses that they face, which are likely to be exacerbated under the current pressures – with associated worries around employment, finances and health.
- Neglect – Isolation can place children at a greater risk of neglect. This is compounded by the increased economic challenges and poverty that families may be facing, and by the increased exposure of children to neglectful environments as they spend more time in the home. The closure of schools may further limit the contact that children have with professionals who can identify the signs of neglect and take steps to intervene and report concerns.
- Children with additional needs – Children and young people with additional needs and disabilities are up to three times more likely to be abused or neglected than non-disabled children, and less likely to disclose harm due to communication and other difficulties. These children may still be able to access school during the Covid-19 response and this is an important safeguard for them. Families may find increased time at home and additional caring responsibilities, where external support opportunities may be limited, a strain.
- Mental Health – Children and young people may be feel worried or anxious about different things. Beyond the virus itself there is the interruption of the normal school routine, suddenly spending most of their time indoors and no longer regularly seeing family and friends. They may also experience someone close to them, such as a family member, carer, friend or teacher, becoming seriously ill or passing away. This can cause feelings of sadness, loss and grief.
- Exploitation – Child exploitation and associated grooming comes in many forms. In times of crisis, those who might seek to exploit children and young people can be quick to act and prey on vulnerabilities facing fewer barriers to do so with a reduction in online moderators that work to keep children safe.
Online social media and gaming sites can give access to personal data to others. Parents and families should be aware on how to monitor activity, recognise the signs of exploitation and take action, and what support they might need to promote good online safety and safeguarding through conversations and discussion with children.
Services that can support Children
The current changes means that families are under greater pressure but if you are worried about a child or young person, it is important that you speak to someone.
If a child is in immediate danger call 999.
You can contact the Children and Young People Department at your local council or the Local Police on 101.
You can contact the NSPCC for support, guidance and to report concerns on 0808 800 5000, by email firstname.lastname@example.org or via their online form. https://www.nspcc.org.uk/
If you are a child or young person wanting to speak to someone you can contact Child line on 0800 1111 or via the Childline website.
You can find further guidance on the Government website for protecting vulnerable children and young people.
Watch this NHS video for tips on safeguarding children.
The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) also provide some helpful advice on safeguarding children during Covid- 19.
Resources to support parents and carers to keep their children safe online:
- Thinkuknow provides advice from the National Crime Agency (NCA) on staying safe online
- Parent info is a collaboration between Parentzone and the NCA providing support and guidance for parents from leading experts and organisations
- Childnet offers a toolkit to support parents and carers of children of any age to start discussions about their online life, to set boundaries around online behaviour and technology use, and to find out where to get more help and support
- Internet matters provides age-specific online safety checklists, guides on how to set parental controls on a range of devices, and a host of practical tips to help children get the most out of their digital world
- London Grid for Learning has support for parents and carers to keep their children safe online, including tips to keep primary aged children safe online
- Net-aware has support for parents and carers from the NSPCC, including a guide to social networks, apps and games
- Let’s Talk About It has advice for parents and carers to keep children safe from online radicalisation
- UK Safer Internet Centre has tips, advice, guides and other resources to help keep children safe online, including parental controls offered by home internet providers and safety tools on social networks and other online services