'Spike' in social service referrals for children in Bradford expected as lockdown eased

Staying at home has meant many children have lost the “safety net” of people who are able to spot changes in their behaviour.

A “spike” in the numbers of children being referred to social services is expected as lockdown lifts – Council bosses have been told.

As more children return to school for the first time since late March, teachers and other professionals may recognise the signs of neglect and abuse in young people who have been out of sight for many months.

At a meeting of Bradford Council’s Executive on Tuesday, members were told that referrals to social services had already reached pre-Covid levels, and staff were expecting a big rise in numbers in the coming weeks as schools open for more children.

Staying at home has meant many children have lost the “safety net” of people who are able to spot changes in their behaviour or injuries and refer them to social services.

Discussing how the department was preparing for lockdown restrictions being lifted, Councillor Adrian Farley, Executive for Children and Families, said: “Despite lockdown, work in Children’s Services has continued as normal.

“It is clear that neglect and harm have not gone away, and we anticipate a spike in referrals once schools return.”

Mark Douglas, head of Children’s Services, said: “We’re anticipating, as we see an ease in lockdown, an increase in demand across child social care.

“We are working to make sure we are able to respond and process all these referrals in a timely manner.

“We’ve seen an increase already, with referral rates returning to pre-Covid levels.

“As children are coming out of lockdown more professionals are starting to to see evidence of abuse and neglect. Our staff are ready to respond to it when this happens.

“We are confident we will be able to respond to the demand in the coming weeks and months.”

Members were told that anyone could make a referral if they expect a child or adult is being abused or neglected.

Children’s charity NSPCC has also raised concerns about abuse during lockdown.

Between March 23 and May 17, 156 referrals were made to local agencies in Yorkshire and the Humber from the charity’s helpline. The month of May saw the highest number of contacts to the helpline about domestic abuse since recording changed in 2016.

The charity has said: “In some cases, fears about the virus were exploited to withhold access to children, cut off contact to family and friends, and monitor victims’ movements under the pretext of keeping them safe from the virus. Victims said this made it difficult to leave and speak out.”

The charity argues the increased risks during the crisis further highlight the need for the Government to amend the law to recognise how violence and coercive control can impact on children and why they must have access to specialist support to recover.

Emily Hilton, NSPCC Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, said: “This crisis has shone a spotlight on children who are living with the daily nightmare of domestic abuse.”

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