Lockdown may be putting more children at risk of abuse

Charity calls for duty on health and other agencies to offer more support to vulnerable.
Lockdown may be putting more children at risk of abuse

By Mark Gould.

Child protection experts are calling for a statutory duty on local health, social services and other agencies to support child victims of domestic abuse as new figures reveal that lockdown may be putting more children at risk.

Latest figures show monthly calls to the National Society of the Protection of Cruelty to Children’s (NSPCC) helpline about children living in homes with domestic abuse are up nearly 50%.

The NSPCC is calling for legal requirement and funding for local authorities to provide recovery services for children who live with domestic abuse. The charity also encourages agencies to sign up to deliver its community-based recovery service in wake of extra demand resulting from the pandemic.

The NSPCC says latest data shows that in the five months from April there were more than 4,500 concerns raised by members of the public, with 818 contacts in August alone.

In the period prior to lockdown (6 January – 22 March 2020) the Helpline responded to a monthly average of 607 contacts about domestic abuse.

In the period since lockdown (1 April – 31 August 2020) the monthly average has risen to 903. In May the Helpline responded 1,017 contacts about domestic abuse - its highest ever level.

The figures highlight how the risk of domestic abuse intensified after measures were put in place to tackle COVID-19 and that concerns raised to the NSPCC are still up compared with pre-lockdown levels.

Over the summer, the NSPCC and other charities successfully campaigned for the Government to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill and recognise the damaging impact domestic abuse can have on children.

However, there is currently no legal requirement to provide specialist support services, which are crucial in helping children recover from domestic abuse and move forward with their lives. 

With the bill expected to have its Second Reading in the House of Lords next month, the charity is calling for an amendment that will place a statutory duty on local agencies to provide community-based services for children experiencing domestic abuse.

Emily Hilton, senior policy and public affairs officer at the NSPCC, said: ‘‘By amending the statutory definition in the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Government has taken the important step of recognising the profound and long-term impact domestic abuse can have on children.

“They should underpin this by creating a statutory duty on local agencies to provide specialist community-based services for children impacted by domestic abuse. This must be backed up by funding for local agencies. 

“The pandemic has shone a spotlight on children who are living with the daily nightmare of domestic abuse. Now more than ever it is crucial the Government grasps the landmark opportunity offered by the Domestic Abuse Bill to ensure children get the protection and support they need.”

The figures are supported by experiences of NSPCC frontline teams and child protection agencies that have adopted the charity’s Domestic Abuse Recovering Together (DART) service to work with mothers and children that have suffered domestic abuse at home. 

Over the last decade more than 2,000 women and children across the UK have been supported by DART services and around 600 have also been helped by other organisations who have been licensed to deliver the service.

An evaluation of DART found that it helps to Increase mothers’ self-esteem and confidence in parenting and affection towards their children, reduce children’s emotional and behavioural difficulties and help practitioners, mothers and children work together.

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