Social workers braced for Norfolk child protection referral surge when schools reopen
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Social workers are braced for a surge of referrals of vulnerable children when Norfolk schools go back in September, amid fears abuse and neglect has gone unreported during the pandemic.
Child protection referrals to Norfolk County Council plummeted to about 50pc of their usual volume during the coronavirus lockdown period.
Although that increased to between 85pc to 90pc of the usual figures by the end of July, there is expected to be a surge once children are back in school and teachers and staff report concerns over abuse or neglect.
An average of 3,711 contacts a month come through the council’s Children Advice and Duty Service, but modelling suggests a surge in referrals from September could bring an increase to about 4,600 a month.
County Hall officers are modelling for a potential surge and to work with other organisations to help manage it.
John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services at the council, said: “Like all authorities we anticipate a surge in demand as more children return to school and we have been doing some modelling to plan for that.
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“Our ‘front-door’, where we handle calls and contacts about child safeguarding, has returned to County Hall in advance of this peak and we will ensure resources and support are available where they are most needed.
“The hidden risks to children as a result of long periods off school are a significant concern, which is why it is absolutely vital to get children back to their classrooms in September.”
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Mr Fisher said staff had been working to ensure vulnerable children were not at risk.
He said: “We’ve continued to visit those children in the greatest needs and have worked alongside schools and other partners to help keep children safe while schools and other activities have been closed to the majority of children.
“This has included developing a far reaching campaign See Something, Hear Something, Say Something, encouraging people to contact us if they have concerns about a child, as well as extending services so that children can contact us directly.”
It will be discussed at the council’s scrutiny committee on Wednesday, August 19.
Simon Bailey, chief constable of Norfolk police, previously said he feared a ‘hidden bubble’ of child abuse crimes may have occurred during coronavirus lockdown.
Mike-Smith Clare, children’s services spokesman for the opposition Labour group at County Hall said: “The lengthy period off school has put many children in extremely vulnerable situations - made even worse by family fears of illness, reduced finances and uncertain futures.
“Unfortunately councillor Fisher’s continual assurances have lost all credibility - people need to know how the service will cope with an avalanche of referrals and what measures are in actually place for a possible second Covid spike.
“It is very likely that many children have suffered appallingly under lockdown and it is essential that all vulnerable young lives are never put in this position again.”