The coronavirus pandemic has seen more children affected by domestic abuse needing to be taken into care, with social workers saying many young people are living in 'constant fear'.
In Tameside, chiefs have revealed that domestic abuse is a ‘key feature’ of a number of cases being escalated through the legal care process.
Director of children’s services, Richard Hancock, told councillors there has been a ‘significant upturn’ in domestic violence-related activity with the department.
It comes as the monthly number of contacts to the NSPCC helpline about youngsters living in violent homes in the north west have almost doubled.
In the five months to August, there were more than 4,500 concerns raised by members of the public.
The charity is now calling for funding for local authorities to provide recovery services for children who live with domestic abuse.
Professionals believe that for many families, lockdown may have become a boiling pot of tensions amid increased levels of abuse and violence within the home – with fewer ways to confide in someone or get help safely.
Tameside council officers say that in the early days of lockdown the numbers of youngsters being referred into the service through their safeguarding hubs reduced.
During the first six weeks there was a 44pc reduction, which was attributed to schools closing, and the impact of Covid-19 preventing parents and carers taking their children for health appointments, attending hospital A&E and going to the GP.
But since July, bosses say they have seen a ‘steady increase’ in the number of referrals, which are now higher than they would be normally.
Following the return to schools in September even more referrals were expected as the ‘hidden harm’ which may have occurred during lockdown is reported.
By July 21, the number of children in care in Tameside had risen to 722.
And the amount of child protection cases are also increasing with a 30pc hike in ‘pre-proceedings’.
This is when the local authority believes there is enough evidence for care proceedings to be needed, but the parents are given a final chance to turn around the issues of concern.
Issues could include the parent’s substance abuse or the state of their mental health, or having neglected their child.
However, council officers say that in a number of the pre-proceeding cases domestic violence is a ‘key feature’, and there has been an increase in the number of referrals into the service in relation to domestic abuse.
Mr Hancock told a recent meeting of the strategic commissioning board: “We are significantly above where we would have been last year in terms of the numbers of contacts, but the conversion of those into referrals hasn’t been seen to go through the process yet.
“At the moment we’re not seeing a big spike in demand but the conversation locally and nationally is that that is likely to come this side of Christmas but it hasn’t happened as yet.
“We have had a significant upturn in DV (domestic violence) activity which is flowing through into the system.”
It’s thought that nationally, the three months until December and further into next year will see domestic violence as an ’emerging pressure’ for new care cases, officers add.
There has also been an increase in the number of applications to the courts to instigate care proceedings, which will ‘inevitably’ lead to a rise in children having to be looked after by the council.
Mel Hughson is a social worker at an NSPCC service centre.
She said: “When a child is living in an abusive household, even if he or she does not directly witness the abuse, it will affect them in many ways.
“It can have a significant impact on their emotional wellbeing and development, their cognitive, behavioural and social development.
“There is a risk that they can be traumatised by their experiences, as they may live in constant fear.”
The NSPCC helpline at 0808 800 5000 is available for adults to share their concerns about a child or get general information about child protection.
Childline is a confidential service for children to confide in and seek help and can be contacted on 0800 1111.
View of Ashton in Tameside. Photo: Charlotte Green.
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