Without a proper recovery plan for children, trauma from lockdown could stay with them forever
We need to ensure councils have enough money to prevent a short-term crisis in children’s services and that schools have the guidance and support they need to prioritise well-being as children return., says Tulip Siddiq MP | Credit: PA Images
There is no time for complacency, and we cannot afford for the next generation to be scarred by the experience of this crisis.
The lockdown is taking a huge toll on many families. Mental health problems, domestic violence and other forms of abuse are all on the rise, and we know that children are often the victims of this.
Calls to Childline are rising every week and the Children’s Commissioner estimates that two million children face increased risks at the moment, from online grooming to exploitation by criminal gangs.
Yet referrals for children’s social care and child and adolescent mental health services are way down, by as much as 50% in some areas. It is often teachers that spot these problems and take action, so it is only when schools return that the full extent of this hidden crisis will become apparent.
All the evidence suggests that the demand for children’s services are about to skyrocket in the coming weeks. Yet, the systems and services to support children and families were struggling in normal times.
A report this week by The Children’s Society, Action for Children, Barnardo’s, the National Children’s Bureau and NSPCC showed that the over £2 billion of cuts to children’s services over the last decade have left them in no state to cope with this likely upsurge in demand.
Many councils have worked tirelessly to protect their spending on children and families, but the huge scale of cuts to local government have meant that there has been a “salami slicing” of services and a focus on crisis management rather than prevention.
Councils are overspending on their children’s services budgets year after year. They had no room for manoeuvre, and that was before a dramatic fall in revenue from business rates, car parks and leisure facilities as a result of Covid-19.
The result is that councils are unable to stop children ending up in care, with many children bouncing in and out of care rather than having problems properly addressed by professionals or community support.
More than 1 in 5 children referred to social care last year having had also been referred the year before. Children and young people have also been unable to access timely mental health support until it is too late, and it often takes an escalation to self-harm before they can get support.
This crisis must be a wake-up call that we cannot go back to ignoring the needs of vulnerable children and slashing away at essential services which protect them.
Not only does this put children in harm’s way, but it is a false economy which ends up costing more in the long run if children are forced into care or the criminal justice system when this was preventable.
The Government urgently needs to realise the scale of the crisis our children face.
We need to ensure councils have enough money to prevent a short-term crisis in children’s services and that schools have the guidance and support they need to prioritise well-being as children return.
However, a proper, long-term recovery plan for children, young people and their families is required if we are going to address problems that have arisen in lockdown and keep them safe in the future.
That will require proper investment in social care and mental health services, as well as a focus on early intervention to ensure that worries do not develop into problems and then crises.
A rise in child poverty, and a decline in the well-being of children and young people, must not be accepted as collateral damage of an economic downturn as they have been before.
The Government urgently needs to realise the scale of the crisis our children face. There is no time for complacency, and we cannot afford for the next generation to be scarred by the experience of this crisis.
Tulip Siddiq is Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn and shadow minister for children and early years