'Harrowing' rise in deaths of children linked to abuse or neglect during pandemic

21 August 2021, 00:25 | Updated: 24 August 2021, 09:50

Councils have called for more support amid the rise in deaths and serious harm of children
Councils have called for more support amid the rise in deaths and serious harm of children. Picture: Alamy
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A "harrowing" rise in deaths and serious harm of children due to abuse or neglect in the year since England's first lockdown is a "huge cause for concern", councils have said.

Local authorities sent 536 serious incident notifications to the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel (CSPRP) between April 2020 to March 2021 - a 19 per cent increase on the previous 12 months.

This comes after the numbers fell in both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 periods. The CSPRP's latest financial year report was published last month.

The increase was branded a "huge cause for concern" by the Local Government Association (LGA), which said there is an urgent need for greater investment in children's social care for preventative and early-help services in the government's forthcoming spending review.

It also expressed extreme concern about the safety of children, with families under increased pressure over the past 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Local authorities must notify the panel of the death or serious harm of a child in their area if they know or suspect the child has been abused or neglected.

They are also required to inform the education secretary and Ofsted if a looked-after child dies, regardless of whether they suspect abuse or neglect.

The serious incident notifications referred to 223 deaths and 284 instances of serious harm, while 29 incidents were categorised as "other".

More a third (36 per cent) of serious incident notifications related to children under one, and 55.4 per cent involved males.

Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, chairwoman of the LGA's children and young people board, said: "Supporting and protecting vulnerable children is one of the most important roles played by councils who want to ensure all children are safe, loved and thrive, so this rise in serious incident notifications is particularly harrowing and a huge cause for concern.

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"The pandemic has put extra pressure on families, particularly those living in difficult circumstances, which can fuel harmful acts of abuse or neglect on children.

"Councils have been working hard with their partners to identify this and provide the help children need, but it is vital that children's social care services are funded to meet this need."

The LGA is also calling for a cross-department strategy, she said, adding: "It is only by working together that we can effectively safeguard our most vulnerable young people."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We know that the pandemic may have exacerbated the challenges many vulnerable children, including those in care and their families may have faced but the increase in serious incident notifications is of concern.

"That's why we prioritised vulnerable children throughout the pandemic by keeping schools open to many of them.

"We are also investing significant funding to improve safeguarding for infants and adolescents, support councils with high demand for children's social care, and to improve outcomes for vulnerable children."