Anna Edmundson, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the NSPCC
The threat posed by coronavirus to children has not immediately been obvious with attention understandably focussing on those in society most susceptible to the virus. But with many of the restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic likely to stay in place for months to come, it is vital we are also vigilant to the wellbeing and safety of young people.
As I write the schools remain closed, with up to 95% of the children identified by the Government as vulnerable also staying away from class. Unfortunately for some young people home is not always the haven it should be. Ensuring they are safe from abuse and neglect without having regular face-to-face contact presents a unique set of challenges for professionals, in particular teachers and social workers. Almost overnight they have had to change the way they work, with most interaction now taking place online or several steps back from the front door to maintain social distancing. Like many who work in the children’s sector, we have been proud of how the workforce is responding to the urgent situation with dedication, compassion and a commitment to putting young people first.
To ensure professionals are getting everything they need to respond to the coronavirus crisis requires both national and local governments to work in close collaboration. In Westminster, as different departments focus on their individual remits around schools, policing, domestic abuse, the court system and online safety, a coordination vacuum is at risk of opening-up. Children must not fall between the gaps and we want to see cross-government leadership on the risks facing children so that efforts are joined up and effective. At the same time Government needs to be providing support and resources to those on the child-protection front-line who have local responsibility and expertise - the multi-agency safeguarding hubs made up of local authorities, NHS and the police who are working with schools and teachers in new ways to protect young people.
However, keeping children safe in these in these unprecedented times is not just the job of Government and the professionals. Everyone has a responsibility to be alive to the fact that a young person may be suffering some form of abuse or neglect. NSPCC Learning, our website for professionals, provides the tools, training and resources workers need to protect the children they work with. Visit nspcc.org.uk/learning. Members of the public who have concerns about the wellbeing of child, or if you work with children and need advice or information, please call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email [email protected]