The British Association of Social Workers has raised fears for a “lost generation” of children in need of safeguarding who may have been missed due to the restrictions introduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
WillisPalmer has repeatedly sounded alarm bells about the plight of children incarcerated potentially with their abusive parents or carers as a result of lockdown restrictions introduced to try and combat the spread of Covid-19. Vulnerable children were given a school place during the lockdowns but take up was low.
While it was widely anticipated that referrals to children’s services would rise significantly in September 2020 after many children returned to education after six months off, this surge never materialised. This resulted in the chief inspector of Ofsted warning in her annual report that child abuse could be going undetected.
After the BBC obtained figures which showed that there had been a 20% fall in the number of children being given child protection orders since March 2020 in Wales alone, compared to the previous year, BASW has warned that safeguarding opportunities have been hampered by lockdown and subsequent restrictions and say this picture in Wales is reflected across the UK.
Over the past 12 months, professionals on the frontline such as social workers and teachers have been hampered by social distancing measures.
Allison Hulmes, BASW Cymru National Director, said: “All the time that we are not identifying the support that young people need, they are being damaged. There’s potentially a whole generation of children and young people who are being traumatised and not being safeguarded and that is unacceptable.”
While in a ‘non-Covid’ year, the 20% reduction in the number of children being placed on child protection orders in Wales could be seen as a positive, given the social effects of the pandemic on society, it is likely to suggest that children are slipping through gaps as mental health problems have worsened during lockdown, domestic abuse has risen and families have been locked in together while trying to deal with worries about health or finances.
Two children from the care system reiterated their fears for children in need of safeguarding who are being missed by professionals.
Emma from Essex experienced abuse at the hands of her parents and was taken into care and placed in a children’s residential home. She said that, on the whole, it was a good experience to be around other children who had some other experiences.
However, she remains very worried about children who may have experienced similar circumstances to her but who have been missed. “I don’t think we’re always going to hear about it until these children become adults or something really bad happens like a child ends up dying…when there could have been intervention, like a school offers that intervention.”
Tayler from West Wales was taken into foster care “because my home wasn’t suitable for a young person to live in”.
While foster care provided her with a different outlook on life, she said: “I understand that a lot of young people will be missed and it is such a shame that they are being missed. But they don’t know any different – they think what they are going through is ok and that’s the worrying thing and what is concerning because they don’t know what they are going through is probably abuse and neglect or something like that.”
BASW is calling for more social workers to meet the predicted demand in referrals now restrictions are starting to life. The professional association also wants to see a clear route map out of lockdown to enable them to work with vulnerable children and families without restrictions.
The governments across the UK released a statement to the BBC stating that they recognised the hard work those working on the frontline have been carrying out and are working in collaboration with the sector to help fulfil any future demands.
Emma is now working towards her PhD while Tayler wants to build her own production company in the future.
In January this year, WillisPalmer called for social workers to be placed in schools in our Children’s Charter to work alongside teachers and help them to identify children who are at risk of or who may have experienced abuse and neglect during lockdown.
The BBC News programme is available here.