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Children’s Commissioner creates local area profiles of child vulnerability during Covid-19

‘Much of child vulnerability is hidden from sight under lockdown’

Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England has published analysis of the extent of child vulnerability around the country, warning that much of it is hidden from sight under lockdown.

The Children's Commissioner's local area profiles of child vulnerability will help national government and councils identify how many vulnerable children there are in each local authority area, and highlight groups at heightened risk during the coronavirus emergency – such as those in overcrowded or inadequate accommodation, with fragile parents, young carers, or without internet access. This analysis is being used to inform the Government's work to create a dashboard by which it can monitor the safety and care of vulnerable children and young people through the coronavirus crisis.

The Children's Commissioner notes that hundreds of thousands of children in England are living with a cocktail of secondary risks that Covid-19 may exacerbate: lack of food in the house, homelessness, sofa-surfing or living in cramped living conditions, neglect, domestic abuse, substance abuse and parental mental health problems.

The matrix of local child need is the latest stage in a three-year project by the Children's Commissioner to ask: if society doesn't know how many vulnerable children there are, how can it do enough to help them? Her 2017 Vulnerability Report was the first attempt to gather all the available data into one place, and this project remains the only comprehensive data on all risks to children in England.

The coronavirus crisis brings into sharp focus both the dangers of vulnerable children falling through gaps in services and policy, and the value of good data from the front line in order to identify where help is needed. Real-time data has been at the heart of the Government's battle against Covid-19.

The Children's Commissioner is calling for the same capabilities to be deployed to identify children at risk as the crisis unfolds, especially those who may not be getting help as social work and other services are pared back.

The lockdown has removed most of the usual ways of identifying children at risk. The Secretary of State for Education has this week written to school leaders and local authorities setting out the importance of encouraging vulnerable children into school which, the Children's Commissioner says, is a very welcome step. However, the great majority of children with a social worker are not attending school, and other community hubs – such as doctor's surgeries, youth centres, children's centres and libraries – are closed. Some schools are working with councils to ensure that all children known to be vulnerable are still being seen by professionals; the Children's Commissioner wants this replicated throughout the country.

For the profiles, click here. For the Children Commissioner's full statement, click here.

Responding to the Children's Commissioner report on vulnerable children during the coronavirus crisis, Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said:

"Referrals to children's social care have fallen by more than half in many areas and councils continue to work closely with local partners and communities to identify children who may be at risk.

"Understandably, many families are concerned for the health of their children and other family members if they attend school. Councils are working with schools and families to provide reassurance, and to make sure that where children aren't in school, they are still being spoken with regularly.

"It is essential that local safeguarding partners, including councils, the police and health, have the resources and capacity they need to keep children safe, and that communities know how to spot signs of risk and how to report these."