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Saturday, 15 August 2020

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Vulnerable children missing out on vital support due to COVID-19

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Lockdown has isolated vulnerable children and young people from services and means they are missing out on vital support, Barnardo’s frontline workers say.

In the biggest ever survey of the leading children’s charity’s services’ practitioners, respondents said that fewer children and young people were being referred into services, despite the increasing need.

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

Through the DfE’s new See, Hear, Respond programme, Barnardo’s is leading a ‘coalition of charities’ across England to provide much-needed support to children who are falling through the cracks; which includes children who have no social worker and 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.

This includes children and young people who are being criminally exploited, victims of sexual and domestic abuse, those struggling with their mental health, children with disabilities and those who are carers to other family members. These young people desperately need help, but the lack of exposure to professionals means they are going unnoticed and unsupported.

But the coalition needs the help of professionals working with children to drive referrals and ensure children and young people get the support they need throughout the crisis.

Nearly half (45%) of Barnardo’s front line 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. Increased mental health and wellbeing issues were the next biggest concern, followed by an 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.

Lockdown and school closures have meant professionals including teachers, social workers and health workers have had less contact with children.

While children are less visible to professionals the most vulnerable are facing increasing danger with many locked down with families facing growing economic and emotional pressure and cut off from the 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.

And the coronavirus pandemic means even more children could experience traumatic events which could affect their mental health as more families are plunged into poverty, domestic abuse rises and more children suffer 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 of colour.

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.

“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, visit: https://www.barnardos.org.uk/see-hear-respond

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