Ofsted warns of risk to ‘out of sight’ children and young people during pandemic
The Chief Inspector of Education and Children’s Social Care has warned that the invisibility of vulnerable children now because of the coronavirus pandemic will leave local authorities responding to a ‘legacy of abuse and neglect’.
Launching this year’s Ofsted Annual Report, Amanda Spielman said that school closures during the first national lockdown had a ‘dramatic impact’ on the number of child protection referrals made to local authorities.
While the number of referrals to children’s services has risen since schools re-opened, it has yet to return to previous levels, raising fears that abuse could now be going undetected.
Ms Spielman said: “Teachers are often the eyes that spot signs of abuse and the ears that hear stories of neglect. Closing schools didn’t just leave the children who - unbeknown to others - suffer at home without respite, it also took them out of sight of those who could help.”
Today’s report finds that the low numbers of children who attended school during the first national lockdown, combined with disruption to community health services, directly affected the ability of local safeguarding partners to identify children and families in need of early help and protection. As a result, local authorities are now more likely to be responding to a legacy of abuse and neglect. The Chief Inspector said it is imperative that all agencies now work together to prioritise the most urgent cases.
Throughout the autumn, Ofsted has been also reporting concerns about the number of children who have not returned to school after lockdown and who are now ostensibly being home-educated. A recent survey of local authorities by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services suggests there are now more than 75,000 children being home schooled – a 38% increase since last year.
Read our story about the rise in home education: https://www.socialworktoday.co.uk/News/Rise-in-home-education-prompts-fresh-calls-for-a-mandatory-register
However, Ofsted says that from its visits to schools, it appears many parents have removed their children because of their fears about the pandemic, rather than a genuine desire to home-school.
Ofsted says it is also concerning that a significant proportion of children who have disappeared from school are those known to wider children’s services – for instance, because they have complex needs or previous attendance issues.
The Annual Report notes that pupils with special education needs and/or disabilities (SEND) have been particularly affected by the pandemic. Their access to additional support and healthcare was sharply reduced during the lockdown, and early identification and assessment suffered when they were not in school. The regulatory body said that for some children, this will cause lasting harm.
The report also finds that a majority of children’s homes (80%) are currently good or outstanding. However, there are not enough suitable places to meet the needs of all vulnerable children in care, and this has been exacerbated by Covid-19. National and local action is needed to create a system that works for children.
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