Rising number of child referrals to social services ‘linked to gangs, trafficking and drug misuse’

A rising number of children are being referred to social services for help as they are exploited by gangs, trafficked and misuse drugs, new figures show.

There were 642,980 referrals to children’s social care in England during 2019-20, according to statistics on children in need published by the Department for Education.

This represents a 1% drop from the previous year – largely down to a noticeable fall in referrals at the start of the coronavirus outbreak and as national lockdown restrictions were imposed.

There were 389,260 children in need as of March 31 – a decrease of 2.6% from 2018-19.

While overall referrals dipped slightly, gangs, trafficking, domestic violence and mental health were all factors identified at the end of the child’s assessment that rose.

There was a 34% increase in gangs, 21% rise in trafficking and 23% rise in a child misusing drugs being identified as factors at the end of assessment.

Domestic abuse affecting a parent was the most common factor and was identified in 169,860 cases, up from 159,970 the previous year.

In around one in 10 cases (64,500), domestic abuse affecting children was identified as a factor – up from 62,530 in 2018-19.

Referrals assessed as involving children’s mental health, the fifth most common factor, rose 22%, up from 61,830 to 75,740.

Children going missing – a sign they may be being exploited – was a factor in 18,200 cases, up from 15,740 the previous year.

The Children’s Society said these issues may have been exacerbated further by the coronavirus pandemic.

Restrictions have put strain on children and parents alike, affecting their wellbeing and making youngsters more vulnerable to being exploited or groomed.

At the same time, many children were largely invisible to social workers and teachers as the lockdown left them isolated at home.

Richard Crellin (pictured), policy, research and public affairs team leader at the Children’s Society, said: “Even before the pandemic, these figures show there were huge numbers of really vulnerable children in need of support.

“It is worrying to see big increases in the number of assessments which found children were at risk of trafficking, going missing and gang involvement.

“We can also see more children and their parents were struggling with mental ill health and situations of domestic violence.

“Covid restrictions have in many ways increased the risk of all these things.”

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