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Vulnerable children ‘hidden’ in lockdown, warns Barnardo’s

Vulnerable young people are being isolated from the services they need during lockdown, Barnardo’s has warned.

The children’s charity has surveyed its practitioners and found that fewer children and young people were being referred into services, despite increasing need.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said: “The coronavirus pandemic has meant that vulnerable children and young people are ‘hidden’ from vital support services. Many have been suffering in silence, struggling with mental health problems or abuse at home, by gangs or online.

“That’s why Barnardo’s is leading a consortium of charities from across England, with support from the Department for Education, to identify and support children at risk of harm.

“But for this to work, we need both professionals - and anyone in contact with vulnerable children - to be our eyes and ears and refer children in need of help,” he added.

Barnardo’s is urging professionals to refer vulnerable children and young people to the new See, Hear, Respond service funded by the Department for Education.

The charity is leading a ‘coalition of charities’ across England to provide much-needed support to children who are falling through the cracks, including children who have no social worker or who have not been identified as vulnerable by authorities. The coalition, made up of local and national charities, will work together to expand its reach and help vulnerable children most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic with online counselling, therapy and face-to-face support.

WillisPalmer has long warned of the dangers of the repercussions of lockdown on families struggling financially, mentally and turning to unhelpful coping mechanisms such as alcohol and drugs which can fuel problems and result in domestic abuse during stressful situations.

Professionals are being encouraged to identify vulnerable children in need of support including those who are being criminally exploited, victims of sexual and domestic abuse, those struggling with their mental health, children with disabilities and young carers with caring responsibilities for other family members. These young people desperately need help, but the lack of exposure to professionals means they are going unnoticed and unsupported.

The survey found:

- Nearly half (45%) of Barnardo’s frontline workers who reported a change in their safeguarding caseload in the charity’s practitioners’ survey, said they had seen a decrease in referrals to their services.

- The biggest concern reported by Barnardo’s practitioners in the survey was that children and young people are not being physically seen by professionals.

- The second greatest concern was increased mental health and wellbeing issues, followed by the increased risk of domestic abuse.

- Frontline workers also reported that lockdown has resulted in vulnerable children and young people being turned away from the support they are entitled to and desperately need, with 8% saying this had happened to a child or young person they are working with.

- More than a quarter (28%) of front line workers who said what needed to be done to mitigate safeguarding risks said there needed to be continued or better partnership working among professionals.

- Professionals including teachers, social workers and health workers have had less contact with children as a result of lockdown and school closures.

Children are less visible to professionals but the most vulnerable are facing increasing danger with many locked down in families facing growing economic and emotional pressure and socially isolated from their usual support systems.

Children have also been in lockdown in homes where domestic abuse and sexual abuse are taking place. These pressures will likely impact more families as the crisis continues.

The coronavirus pandemic also means even more children could experience traumatic events which could affect their mental health as more families are faced with poverty, domestic abuse and experiencing bereavement.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic children are more likely to be carers for ill or disabled family members and are more likely to suffer bereavement as the virus disproportionately affects people from BME backgrounds.

Javed Khan added: “Children have too often been unseen and unheard during this crisis and they risk becoming the forgotten victims. This initiative is a vital lifeline for the hundreds of thousands of children and young people as we navigate the pandemic and its aftermath, helping to improve their long-term outcomes so they can have successful futures.”

For more information or to make a referral to the See, Hear and Respond service.

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