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Residents urged to look out for signs of child abuse, as number of referrals fall

Residents are being reminded of the need to stay vigilant to the signs of child abuse and the neglect of children in Stoke-on-Trent during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The plea comes as national support organisation the NSPCC and regional agency the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Safeguarding Children Board have cautioned that the coronavirus restrictions may lead to children being put at a greater risk of neglect and abuse.

During April, referrals to the council’s children’s services have so far fallen by around 35 per cent, compared to the average monthly referrals for January – March 2020. The expected number of referrals for the whole of April is around 315, compared to a monthly average of 483 in January, February and March. The NSPCC website states that: “We know isolation can put children at greater risk of domestic abuse, neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.”

Council leader Abi Brown said: “The coronavirus has reduced the amount of contact that children have on a daily basis. Whereas children are normally seen by a number of different adults every day, like teachers, neighbours and family friends, through the pandemic this isn’t happening. This can create the perfect storm for offenders to abuse children. If a child is experiencing abuse, there aren’t as many opportunities for adults to spot the signs and help.”

The council’s social services teams are continuing to deliver essential support to families and children at risk in a number of ways. Efforts are also being made to keep school places open for vulnerable children and agencies are working closely together to support vulnerable children.

Council Brown said: “It’s everyone’s responsibility to keep children safe and report concerns. Isolation can put some children at a greater risk of domestic abuseneglectphysical abuseemotional abuse and sexual abuse.

“While families are self-isolating at home, they may also need extra support with parenting. The impact of the coronavirus lockdown has increased online risks and while social media and gaming sites are proving to be a lifeline for parents and their children as they adapt to being at home, they may also bring heightened risks.

“It is more important than ever for parents to have regular conversations with their children about what they’re doing online and to reassure them they can come to you with any worries.”

Support is available from a number of areas:

  • If you spot any signs of neglect or any have any concerns, please contact the city council. Call the Stoke-on-Trent safeguarding referral team on 01782 235100, Monday-Thursday, 8.30am-5pm, Friday 8.30am-4.30pm. For out of hours support, contact the emergency duty team on 01782 234234.
  • The Lucy Faithfull Foundation runs a confidential helpline called ‘Stop It Now!’ on 0808 1000 900, for anyone who is concerned about their own behaviour or the behaviour of others. This can be accessed by any member of the public or by professionals who need advice. There is also a secure messaging service and information and advice on their website.
  • The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command Centre (CEOP) has launched a campaign, #OnlineSafetyAtHome, to help prevent all forms of online exploitation. CEOP has produced a number of resources for all age groups and for those concerned about sexting.
  • The NSPCC has a number of resources to keep children safe. They have also produced resources for parents about online safety.
  • Anyone who thinks a child may be in immediate danger should call 999 immediately.

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