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Referrals down by 20% during latest lockdown

Referrals to children’s social care fell by more than 20% in January during the latest national lockdown, official Department for Education statistics has shown.

The Ofsted chief inspector warned before Christmas that child abuse could be going undetected and the latest DfE figures show that referrals between 25 and 31 January 2021 was 23% lower than the usual number of referrals at that time of year.

“In Wave 19 (25 - 31 January), the total number of referrals was 23% lower than a three year average of the same week across 2017 to 2020; this is similar to 22% lower during Wave 18,” said the report.

The total number of referrals to children’s social care services reported in Waves 1 to 19 of the survey was 195,030, this is around 10% lower than an average of the same weeks during 2017-20.

The first wave began on 27 April to 3 May.

Due to schools only being open to the children of key workers and vulnerable children during the latest wave, referrals from schools were 57% lower than usual, similar to the first wave of national restrictions in 2020. However, unlike the first wave of national restrictions, referrals from the police were lower than usual levels in Wave 19 and were 10% less while referrals from individuals were also 22% lower than usual during the latest wave of the survey.

In parts of the survey where respondents could provide open text responses, there were very mixed experiences in the numbers of referrals received across local authorities. Some local authorities reported that referrals to children’s social care had, in fact, increased and were now at levels higher than average.

Others report that referrals remained lower than average or as expected at this time of year. In the latest survey waves 18 and 19 (January and February) the mixed experiences in the number of referrals received continue but slightly more local authorities revealed that their referral numbers have fallen like they did back in March during the early stages of the (COVID-19) pandemic.

The data also revealed that the total number of looked after children was 2% higher than the same time in 2019-20 and the total number of children on a child protection plan (CPP) was around the same as 2019- 20.

It also showed that:

- 73% of looked after children had been in contact with a social worker in the previous four weeks

- 95% of children on a CPP had been in contact with a social worker in the previous four weeks

- 65% of children in need (CIN) had been in contact with a social worker in the previous four weeks

The proportion of social workers not working due to coronavirus (COVID-19) has stabilised, with 4% of local authorities reporting over 10% of social workers unavailable due to COVID-19 in waves 18 and 19. The lowest point was in Wave 16 on 14-16 December 2020 when 1% of local authorities reported more than 10% of social workers were unable to work due to COVID and the highest point of 13% was in May 2020.

The proportion of local authorities reporting over 10% of their residential care staff unable to work due to coronavirus (COVID19) has decreased to 17% in Wave 19, compared to 21% in Wave 18 (25 – 27 January).

The DfE established a survey of local authorities in England to help understand the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on Children’s Social Care. Local authorities are asked to report to DfE every two weeks with the exception of four weeks between Waves 7 and 8 and Waves 16 and 17 on contact with children supported by the local authority children’s social care, the workforce and system pressures.

Vulnerable Children and Young People Survey Summary of returns Waves 1 to 19

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