Northamptonshire residents with concerns about the safety of a child are being asked to call social services after referrals have plummeted.
Northamptonshire County Council’s cabinet member for children Fiona Baker has asked people to be extra vigilant and keep their eye out for signs of abuse and to contact the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) with any concerns.
And the county’s child safeguarding partnership says it is worried about the hidden harm that children could be experiencing during lockdown and have created local teams and increased safeguarding help to children they are most concerned about.
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The call from Cllr Baker has come after the number of referrals about possible child abuse cases have fallen by half during the lockdown.
In the four weeks from March 2 to 29 there were on average 740 calls made each week, with a high of 893 in the week beginning March 9.
But with the schools closing on March 23 and taking vulnerable children out from the watchful eye of school staff and professionals, the number of reports to social services about children who may be being abused has decreased dramatically.
In the week from April 20th there were only 394 referrals into Northamptonshire’s MASH.
Cllr Baker said: “Safeguarding children in Northamptonshire is vital during these uncertain and worrying times which is why we are calling on the community to be vigilant, curious and proactive in trying to identify hidden harm as early as possible.
“Our Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) is fully operational and prepared to deal with concerns and issues relating to the welfare of a child and would encourage anyone who is worried about the well-being of a child to report it to the MASH on 0300 126 1000.”
A spokesman for the county council said: “Like the rest of the country we have seen a decrease in the volume of contacts to children’s social care. In the most recent weeks, the number of children attending school has reduced, which accounts for a significant proportion of the decrease as schools referrals into the MASH have decreased.
“Safeguarding partners are concerned about the ‘hidden harm’ to children and young people during this time of lockdown. We know that some children are more vulnerable than before during the Covid-19 crisis, both because they are not receiving the same level of contact with professionals and because for some the impact of lockdown with their family will increase risk factors for them.
“A strategic approach has been agreed by the Safeguarding Partnership. This supports agencies to be proactive and share responsibility for identifying risk and harm that may currently be hidden and to support our most vulnerable children and young people. The Safeguarding Partnership are working together to maximise resource and have established locality and countywide multidisciplinary teams to co-ordinate the safeguarding support to the children we are most concerned about.
“Safeguarding children remains a priority during these exceptional times. We continue to ask the community to be vigilant, curious and proactive in trying to identify hidden harm as early as possible.”
Signs that a child is in an unsafe environment include crying for long periods, unexplained injuries, aggressive or repeated shouting in the home, very young children left alone or outside for long periods and children being withdrawn or anxious.
The welfare of pupils had been one of the key concerns for schools when they suddenly had to close their doors. Many have made arrangements to keep in touch with vulnerable children and troubled families.
Brooke Weston Trust runs a number of primary and secondary schools in Corby and Kettering and its safeguarding lead Claire Greaves said: “All schools in the Brooke Weston Trust have reviewed their practice in light of school closures and government advice due to Covid-19. At all times student safety and supporting our families remains our highest concern. The experienced professional safeguarding teams in our schools have implemented a tiered response to identifying the needs of all our young people.
“Vulnerable students, including those in the care of the local authority; who have a social worker and have an education, health and care plan, are regularly contacted by the most appropriate member of staff from their school.
“Safeguarding staff are working closely with external agencies, ensuring that all statutory meetings are attended. Referrals to external agencies, including the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub continue to be made by all schools as required. All students who are eligible for free school meals have an effective system in place, with a high level of uptake from the scheme we are using. All of our schools are open daily for vulnerable students and children of key workers, including during holidays and bank holidays. We encourage our vulnerable students to attend school when it is safe and practicable to do so.”