Seven Northamptonshire children died during lockdown

Neglect and abuse are suspected in all of the tragic deaths that have happened between April and July
The young children all during the lockdown months between April and July.The young children all during the lockdown months between April and July.
The young children all during the lockdown months between April and July.

Seven Northamptonshire children have died during lockdown and abuse or neglect are suspected in all cases.

Six of those who died were babies and toddlers according to brief details in a safeguarding report written by Northamptonshire clinical commissioning group’s chief nurse Angela Dempsey.

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Speaking at the CCG board meeting last Tuesday (August 18) she said: “We have seen quite an increase in all levels of reviews. Some very sad situations, especially around domestic abuse. We have had quite a few child deaths. But just to reassure you we are working very closely with our partners, our adult and children’s boards and as a system are really pulling together on this and working closely with our multi agency safeguarding hub. In terms of safeguarding, it has been quite a challenging time, but as a system we have pulled together as well as we can do to tackle some of these difficult situations.”

The safeguarding report says that ‘it is too early to say if all will result in a Safeguarding Child Practice Review, however this is likely’.

Reviews are carried out by the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children’s Partnership. Asked about the deaths by the Local Democracy Reporting Service a spokesman said: “We acknowledge the number of deaths during this period and are responding accordingly.”

So far one child death since April has been progressed to a Child Safeguarding Practice Review.

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In May Northamptonshire children’s services cabinet member Cllr Fiona Baker made an appeal for residents to be extra vigilant and report any signs of suspected neglect or abuse of children.

This was amid referrals to the Northamptonshire Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (Mash) – which is the first point of contact for those concerned about a child’s welfare – falling by almost half during lockdown.

In March there were an average of 740 calls a week to the helpline, but this dropped to 394 in one lockdown week in mid April.

This was largely due to the majority of children not attending school in the lockdown period hence school referrals dropping significantly. Teaching professionals are often the first to pick up on whether a child is being abused or neglected within the home.

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The seven deaths raise questions about whether the children who have died were already known to Northamptonshire’s social services. Last summer two heavily critical safeguarding reviews said there had been serious failings in the deaths of two Northamptonshire children, who were both murdered by father figures. The service apologised for ‘letting down’ the children and said it was ‘deeply ashamed’.The department, which has been through much turmoil in recent years, is currently rated as inadequate by Ofsted and the Government sent in a Children’s Commissioner eighteen months ago to turn the performance around.

The service, which is run by Northamptonshire county council, will be taken out of direct local authority management and put into the hands of an independent children’s trust before unitary reorganisation next April.

In response to the seven deaths an NSPCC spokesperson said: “There has been a rising tide of contacts to the NSPCC helpline throughout lockdown, showing how children have been the hidden victims of the pandemic.

“In April and May, 58 per cent of calls to our helpline led to referrals across the UK. Locally, in the East of England, 1,824 referrals were carried out between April and July following calls from worried adults and physical abuse continues to be one of the top concerns for our child safety experts.

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“We are calling on the Government to support a multi-agency partnership of local authority, NHS and police to work with schools to review support for children, including identifying those who continue to miss class with a plan to understand and address any barriers to a child’s school attendance.

“We must all play our part in supporting children to recover from the mental and physical harm many have suffered these past few months. Government’s role is crucial, and putting children at the heart of recovery planning is essential. Action must be taken quickly including the delivery of a long-term investment in children’s social care to provide high quality preventative and therapeutic services for children without the UK.”

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