Child abuse may be going unreported because people do not know where to go for help during the UK’s coronavirus lockdown, it has been warned.
A survey by the NSPCC revealed that a quarter of British adults would not know where to seek help if they thought a child was being hurt or neglected.
Kam Thandi, head of the charity’s helpline, said: “It is terrible to think that cases of child abuse and neglect may be going unreported because people don’t know where to go to for help and advice.
“At the moment, we’re increasingly reliant on the public to come forward with their concerns and if reports drop we fear abusers will have free reign to harm children, both physically and emotionally.”
She urged anyone concerned about the wellbeing of a child to contact the helpline, amid warnings of a rise in domestic violence.
There is also growing concern that vulnerable children are at risk and are missing out on vital support during the Covid-19 crisis and school closures.
The survey of more than 2,000 adults in Britain found that 26 per cent are not confident they would know where to seek help if they thought a child or young person was being abused or neglected.
When asked whether they were worried about young people suffering domestic abuse during the lockdown, more than three quarters said they had concerns.
A similar proportion had concerns about physical abuse (74 per cent) and emotional abuse (73 per cent) of children.
Schools, colleges and nurseries closed more than seven weeks ago due to the coronavirus outbreak, remaining open only for vulnerable youngsters and the children of key workers.
The latest government figures show that only around 14 per cent of vulnerable children – those with a social worker or an education, health and care plan in England – attended school on Thursday last week.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that some councils are seeing up to a 50 per cent decline in referrals of children.
Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Councils are very concerned about falling referrals to children’s social care.
“They are working with their partners and communities to try to identify children who may be at risk and putting in place plans to ensure that if referrals spike when children return to school, they are able to ensure children and families get the right help quickly.“
She added: “The impact of the pandemic on some children will be far-reaching, and it will be essential that the right services are there to support them.“
More than 1,000 local authority councillors from across England have signed a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, organised by the National Education Union (NEU), calling for greater support for local authorities to help vulnerable families amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter says: “We also have concerns about support for vulnerable children and the increased calls to domestic violence helplines nationally.
“We would ask that the government continue to work with local authorities and schools to ensure vulnerable children do not ‘slip through the net’ and the necessary financial support is available to councils to support families fleeing domestic violence.”
Additional reporting by Press Association