Safeguarding e-Bulletin – 27th April 2020

There is no doubt this is an unprecedented time for us all right now, with COVID-19 presenting many challenges. Please rest assured the SSS Learning team are working safely and carrying out the essential work to keep our services fluid and working as usual.

We are really proud to be providing a service to support and enable so many people working in all education settings. Since lockdown measures commenced, over 50,000 certificates have been issued to staff completing our CPD courses, including creating over 2,000 new Designated Lead trained staff.

In addition, we are also continuing to grow our programme of planned additional content without interruption to our schedule. I’m pleased to say our animators are now working on our latest course on Domestic Abuse, which is due to be launched next month. This is a key safeguarding area which sadly, due to current restrictive measures, is making adults and their children at risk or experiencing abuse more vulnerable.

As you will have had to amend your Safeguarding policy to include COVID- 19 provision, don’t forget to make use of our Document Tracker to upload and disseminate your revised protocols.

Please remember we are here to support you and thank you for all you are doing.

Sam Preston

Safeguarding Director

Domestic abuse- COVID- 19

In a statement the Counting Dead Women project has identified there have been at least 16 suspected domestic abuse killings, which include children, since the coronavirus lockdown restrictions were introduced in the UK three weeks ago. Counting Dead Women founder, Karen Ingala Smith, wrote the figure was “the highest it has been for at least 11 years and is double that of a hypothetical average 21 days over the last 10 years”. The deaths of around five females a week at the hands of men is more than double the average rate of two for the time of year.

Earlier this month, support charity Refuge said there had been a 25% rise in phone calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline in a five-day period a week after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the lockdown on 23 March.

Refuge, one of the charities supporting those at risk of or experiencing domestic abuse and/ or violence, has also reported that visits to the  National Domestic Abuse Helpline, in that same period had gone up by 150% compared with the last week in February.

The Home Office has launched a new campaign to promote the help available to those at risk of or experiencing domestic abuse during the coronavirus lockdown and is working with charities to provide an extra £2m for domestic abuse helplines and online support. 

However, although welcoming the campaign and funding, Victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird said it had come “quite late in the day” and that “to save lives in this pandemic we are ordering some people to stay locked up for a long time with people who will damage them. And that has been staring the government in the face.”

Speaking to the Home Affairs Committee of MPs, Dame Vera said the government must adapt by providing a “system of rescue” in the places where victims will go to during the outbreak, such as supermarkets. She said supermarket workers should be trained to recognise code words from domestic abuse victims.

West Midlands Police has made 400 arrests for domestic abuse in the past fortnight but officers fear more crimes may go unreported. The PSNI District Commander for Derry City and Strabane, Chief Superintendent Emma Bond, said she is concerned some “traditionally under-reported” crimes may be “less visible” due to lockdown restrictions and that “concerns exist” over incidents such as hate crime and domestic abuse.

Poor uptake of emergency places for vulnerable children

Department for Education data shows that only a tiny fraction of vulnerable children in England are taking up the emergency school places kept open for them. The data shows just 29,000 so-called vulnerable children attended school in the week before the Easter holidays. This compares to the more than 723,000 children who were known to children’s social care services in 2019.

The figures have prompted concerns that “at risk” children are facing increased danger in the lockdown, while schools and teachers struggle to get hold of them”. The new data shows only a maximum of 5% of the most needy children have been at school during the Coronavirus crisis.

In response, Children’s minister Vicky Ford said children who were not in school were being monitored by social workers and supported in other ways. However, in a statement to the BBC, England’s Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said: “What we now know is, what we’ve been hearing over the last few weeks, that the vast majority of vulnerable children in this country are not attending, despite the fact that schools are open. What that means is that they are at home, potentially with a cocktail of risks. They may be in homes with quite fragile environments, potentially domestic violence in the home – which we know is increasing, parents with drug and alcohol addictions or indeed severe mental health conditions. So often these children are quite invisible at home and not in the place which is best at keeping them safe – school.” Ms Longfield also said that referrals to social services had dropped by half, adding that “social workers need to be knocking on doors and everyone needs to be working tirelessly to get these vulnerable children into schools”.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said his first priority was protecting the well-being of children and young people but particularly those vulnerable young people with social worker or special educational needs stating that “Schools are open for them and we’re working to make sure those who should attend do so.”

Update to guidance during the coronavirus pandemic:

HM Government guidance on schools and education during the coronavirus pandemic for parents and carers has been updated (19th April 2020). This update covers lots of information, including charges by childcare providers, alternative exam arrangements and more.

HM Government has published further guidelines on how to stay safe online during COVID-19. The guidance includes a section for parents and carers, including parental controls, how to talk to children about staying safe online and health guidelines. 

You may wish to include the above links on your websites.

Re-opening schools

During the weekend of the 18th and 19th April, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced there was no date set for returning to school, quashing speculation about an imminent return. In response Association of Schools and College Leaders (ASCL) General Secretary, Geof Barton said that the earliest “realistic” point at which schools in England could start re-opening would be 1 June and that “planning would need to begin very soon” in order to meet such a target.

The education secretary said if and when the five thresholds in the fight against coronavirus were reached, a date could be set for schools to reopen. The thresholds include: 

  • the NHS’s ability to cope is fully protected
  • the daily death rate is dropping
  • infection rates are falling to manageable levels
  • there are sufficient supplies of testing and protective equipment
  • there is no risk of a “second peak” of infections

Only once those requirements have been met, will a date be set for schools to re-open. Due to the complexity in ensuring not only educational services could be maintained but also those services necessary for functionality e.g. school meals, transport services, it is likely there will be some measure of phased return proposed. In addition, parents would also have to be persuaded it was safe and that the proposed social distancing measures could be maintained.

Doubt has been cast on whether social distancing can really be feasible in schools particularly between younger children and there are other questions around safety:

  • Should children with family members vulnerable because of health conditions return to school?
  • How many vulnerable staff would need to be shielded? 
  • What protective equipment might be needed for teachers?

Earlier last week, a petition from NHS nurse Iain Wilson warned against any early push to re-open schools stating, “It is self-evidently unwise to force hundreds of people into small rooms in small buildings during a pandemic.”

Robert Halfon, Chair the Education Select Committee, said primary schools should be the first to return to help parents and stop disadvantaged youngsters falling behind at an early stage. However, Mr Barton said the priority should be Years 10 and 12, who are part-way through GCSEs and A-levels, and Year 6, where children are about to make the transition to secondary school.

Other countries might provide evidence of how reopening educational settings might work. In France, primary-school pupils will start to go back, in classes of no more than 15, from 11 May and in the Netherlands, pupils will go back, on a part-time basis, on the same date, with secondary pupils returning from 1 June.

Knife crime in England and Wales rises to record high

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures reveal that knife crime in England and Wales increased last year to a new record high. The ONS said police recorded 45,627 offences in the year to December 2019, 7% more than in 2018, and the highest since knife crime statistics were first collected in 2010-11. The figures, which do not include Greater Manchester Police because of IT issues, also showed a 13% rise in knife crime in the West Midlands.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on knife and violent crime reduction said the money is needed to ensure youth services can offer specialist support to the victims and perpetrators of violent crime. The cross-party group of MPs and peers are calling for HM Government to invest £1.57bn in children and youth services to tackle violent crime.

In a new report, the APPG stated it also wants to see youth services work more closely with charities to deliver specialist support. However, a key finding of the report recognises that it is impossible to deliver this type of specialised work unless there is investment in and development of the workforce. 

45% Increase in UK child trafficking cases

National Crime Agency annual data on the number of people referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which identifies UK trafficking cases reveals a 45% increase in the number of children identified as potential victims over the past year.

4,550 children were identified as potential victims of trafficking in 2019, compared with 3,137 in 2018. Nearly half of those all identified as victims were children. 

The vast majority of child victims were from the UK, however significant numbers of children from Vietnam, Eritrea, Albania and Sudan were also identified as potential victims.

Three quarters of all children identified as potential victims were boys, although this is likely to be due to increased recognition of male victims of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE).

From October 2019, labour exploitation and CCE have been recorded as separate exploitation types to reflect the increased threat posed by criminal gangs towards children, particularly through county lines drugs activity.

Data for the final three months of 2019 shows there were 664 referrals solely for CCE and a further 138 in which CCE was suspected alongside other forms of exploitation – meaning CCE accounted for 56% of all exploitation in that quarter.

All professionals working with vulnerable children are required to report suspected cases of exploitation to the NRM. Following reporting, all cases are assessed, and support put in place for those that are confirmed.

However, reflecting on the latest data Iryna Pona policy manager at The Children’s Society stated that : “Too often children at risk are not identified and knowledge of the NRM remains patchy among professionals,”

Pona also cautioned that criminals could take advantage of the coronavirus crisis to target children who may be isolated from their usual support networks or missing supervision and support offered by school, college and other education settings.

Hard to Escape

A report published by The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel has found moving teenage victims of criminal exploitation away from their local area is not an effective way of protecting them from gangs. 

Findings in the report It Was Hard To Escape, which examined how teenagers can be better protected from criminal exploitation, indicates that moving children and families affected by gang crime “works for a short period but is not effective as a long-term strategy”.

The report states that “Moving children or whole families out of the area provides a breathing space and immediate safety but was not effective as a medium- or longer-term strategy,” and calls for a “clear and consistent plan for supporting the child and managing risk in the new location”.

Relocation is often carried out by councils when a child is considered to be at serious risk of harm and violence. The report also calls for far greater focus on the needs of parents and siblings in their new location including priority council housing for families who need to be moved for their own protection. The report highlights a case of one family who moved back to an at-risk area to prevent the loss of their permanent housing rights but “within months their son was killed”.

Local agencies “woefully ill-equipped” to deal with familial abuse

A new report, has found that children sexually abused by family members are going unseen and unheard in too many cases, while abusers evade justice. 

The report produced by inspectorates Ofsted, HMICFRS, Care Quality Commission and HMI Probation found that local agencies are often woefully ill-equipped to deal with child sex abuse in families and that efforts to prevent abuse are largely absent, while ineffective criminal investigations are, in the worst cases, leaving children at risk.

Familial abuse accounts for two thirds of all child sex abuse, though the true figure is highly likely to be higher due to under-reporting. The report shows that despite the extent of the problem, local and national strategies to tackle it are virtually non-existent.

The report also found that whilst agencies have improved their response to child grooming outside the home, the less high-profile issue of familial sex abuse is not getting the priority it needs. The inspectorates’ findings expose a worrying lack of knowledge and focus on familial abuse from all local partners. Although inspectors found pockets of good work, this was inconsistent at best.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Practice is too police-led, focusing on the criminal investigation at the expense of children– often at the exclusion of health services resulting in children being left without medical treatment for possible sexually transmitted infections, other injuries and without mental health support;
  • Poor-quality criminal investigations– significant delays to police investigations mean that children are left in limbo, or at worst unsafe. Rather than arrest, voluntary attendance is being used to interview suspects, so children aren’t protected by bail, while potential abusers could be destroying evidence. Inappropriate bail conditions leave abusers free to contact and, in some cases, even return to live with the children they are abusing;
  • Preventative work is absent or focused on known offenders– inspectors saw little work to educate the public about risks relating to child sex abuse. It was also clear that, possibly due to a reluctance to discuss the topic, local partners are not prioritising prevention work; 
  • Professionals rely too heavily on children to speak out about abuse– Children are unlikely to tell someone that they are being sexually abused, particularly when they know the perpetrator. Parents, professionals and the public must understand and know how to respond to the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse – education is vital;
  • Some initiatives are working well, but these are too piecemeal– Inspectors found examples of effective work in all areas but a more consistent and strategic approach to what works would widen impact and efficacy;
  • Efforts to protect children are also being hampered– agencies, and society more generally, are afraid to talk about familial sex abuse. Within communities, there remains a disbelief and denial that sex abuse can happen at home.

The report also highlights that important lessons learned from dealing with child sexual exploitation are not being applied to abuse in families, stating that professionals don’t know enough about perpetrators, how to identify them and how to stop them from abusing children.

Sam Preston
Safeguarding Director

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