Professionals including postal workers, delivery drivers and plumbers are being urged to look out for signs of child abuse when visiting people’s homes in an awareness campaign launched by The Children’s Society and National Police Chiefs Council.
Neighbours and professionals are being urged to look out for signs a child may be being abused at home amid fears that vulnerable children are hidden from view during the lockdown.
James Simmonds-Read, National Prevention Programme Manager at The Children’s Society, said: “It’s a real worry that horrific child abuse and exploitation, which might be picked up on quickly in ordinary times could be going under the radar right now.
“We can all play a vital role in protecting vulnerable children, which is why we are urging anyone with concerns - be it a pizza delivery driver, gas engineer or a worried neighbour - to take responsibility and report them.
“If something doesn’t feel right, it might not be and by speaking out you could help a child escape a really dangerous, traumatic situation,” he added.
The new campaign is launched as children start their summer break with many having been out of education since March, although vulnerable children and the children of key workers have been eligible for a school place. Schools are now set to fully re-open in September.
The campaign’s posters, designed by The Children’s Society’s national exploitation Prevention programme, urge people to ‘Know, Look, Act’. Police forces along with businesses and professionals including supermarkets, restaurants and takeaways, foodbanks, job centres, Covid testing centres, transport operators, NHS 111 and social workers, youth workers, health visitors and midwives across the country have been provided with the posters.
The Children’s Society fears abuse, including child sexual abuse, may have been going undetected during the Covid-19 crisis because children are spending more time at home, where they are less visible to professionals such as teachers and social workers and to the public.
The charity also has concerns that children may be being exploited in other people’s homes – for instance, being groomed by organised criminals to deal drugs in county lines operations.
The campaign warns that the public and professionals should be aware of the following signs of potential abuse:
- Guarded behaviour
- Sudden changes in behaviour
- Bruises, burns, bite marks or fractures
- Children appearing withdrawn, anxious or frightened
- Hearing or seeing shouting and violence towards a child
- Children seen carrying or using drugs
- Children being late or arriving home late in different cars
- Unaccompanied children visiting a house where only adults live
People are being urged to stay curious, look beyond the obvious and report any concerns rather than attempting to intervene themselves. They are urged to notify their safeguarding lead if they are visiting in a professional capacity and to contact police on 101 or 999 in an emergency. They can also call the children’s charity the NSPCC on 0808 800 500 for advice or guidance.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey, NPCC Lead for Child Protection, said: “Child protection and safeguarding the vulnerable remains a priority for policing. We know the home is not the safe place it should be for all children, and the coronavirus restrictions have left young people at greater risk of familial abuse and online exploitation.
“There is also less opportunity for a child being abused to seek help or raise the alarm to anyone.
“Information from communities is a vital part of our work to protect children, which is why we are working with The Children’s Society to raise awareness of the risks to children during the COVID-19 crisis through this campaign which is being supported by forces nationwide.
“If you suspect that a child is at risk of being abused or exploited, don’t hesitate to call police and raise your concerns – your call could save a young person from further harm,” he added.
The campaign poster can be downloaded here.