What trends are we seeing in child safeguarding practice during the COVID-19 crisis?

Featured article - 10 June 2020
By Karen Manners, Interim Chair of the Independent Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel

Karen Manners, Interim Chair of the independent Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel

My tenure as Interim Chair of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel coincided with the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. When the lockdown measures began, my initial reaction was one of deep concern – with schools and GPs closed and the advice to stay at home, it felt like an unprecedented challenge to child safeguarding practice.

Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to meet fortnightly, albeit remotely, to consider serious incident notifications and rapid reviews from local areas. Our work gives us a unique overview of child safeguarding practice across England and we are not surprised, but immensely impressed, by the ways safeguarding partners have adapted and innovated to be able to maintain crucial links and strong relationships with vulnerable children and families whilst social distancing.

We asked safeguarding partners to indicate whether any serious incidents had a COVID-19 context as we knew this would be important when we came to look at recovery. This is now happening and as we receive the rapid reviews and learning reviews it will help us to build a picture of how lockdown is impacting child safeguarding practice

Trends from notifications and rapid reviews

The panel never lose sight of the impact the abuse and neglect we see through rapid reviews has on children’s lives. In the early weeks of the pandemic there was no discernible change to the number of serious child safeguarding incidents notified to the panel in March and April 2020, in comparison to the three-year averages for those months.

In May there was an increase – as the numbers are small overall we sometimes do see fluctuations and we need to do more analysis of what has been reported once we receive the rapid reviews. However, the patterns of notifications we highlighted in our first annual report earlier this year continue to be seen in the most recent serious incidents. Harm to babies – those under one – and older adolescents appears to be more prevalent than in other age groups.

Since 23 March 2020, we have received 95 serious incidents. Each one of the incidents we see is a tragedy and challenges us all to review what happened in the most effective way so that we can understand what we can do collectively to get the best help and support to our children and families.

However, trends are difficult in this area so it’s vital that safeguarding partners look at how Covid-19 has impacted not just on the circumstances of the child and family, but also the capacity of services to respond to their needs.

By ensuring that we all learn from the very worst cases of child abuse and neglect, I hope we can help equip frontline practitioners with further knowledge on how to prevent child death and serious harm.

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