Child abuse helpline referrals in Scotland increase by third during pandemic
The number of referrals made by a child abuse helpline to authorities has increased by more than a third during the pandemic, latest figures show.
The NSPCC made 2,476 referrals to external agencies in Scotland such as the police and local authorities from April 2020 to March 2021, compared with 1,781 over that period in 2019/20 – an increase of 39%.
Referrals are made when concerns reported to the helpline are considered to be serious enough to warrant further investigation or if it is felt a family needs support.
The top reason for referral from the helpline was parental and adult mental health and behaviour, which increased by 86% from the previous year to 954.
The charity warns the pandemic has increased the risk of abuse and neglect, with children both more vulnerable and out of sight of people who can keep them safe.
Sir Peter Wanless (pictured), NSPCC chief executive, said: “We’ve been hearing first-hand about the immense pressures families have faced during the pandemic and the heavy toll that has taken on children and young people.
“For some children, this has included experiencing abuse, bereavement and other harm.
“The record number of contacts to our helpline reinforces the need for governments across the UK to put children at the heart of their recovery plans. These must go beyond education and address the harm some have experienced so the pandemic doesn’t leave a legacy of trauma for children.
“But this isn’t just a job for our governments. Everyone has to play their part in keeping children safe.
“And that’s why we’re planning childhood day on June 11 when we’ll celebrate childhood and encourage people to get involved in making sure all children grow up happy and safe.”
Concerns about adult mental health and behaviour include parental alcohol and substance misuse, domestic abuse and parental mental health.
One parent who contacted the helpline said: “I was recently let go from my job and I haven’t been coping well with the stress of it all. I’ve been drinking more than I used to and me and my wife argue almost every day.
“Sometimes the rows happen in front of our two-year old daughter – I’m worried what effect it must be having on her.
“Me and my wife have tried couples counselling in the past but it didn’t really work for us. I really want to get my anger under control so I’m hoping you might be able to help.”
The second highest reason for referral was physical abuse, with referrals increasing by 42% to 490.
This was followed by neglect, which increased by 2% to 422 referrals, and emotional abuse which rose by 15% to 289.
The NSPCC warns that with most children back in school and society, the hidden harms they experienced during the lockdowns will become visible.
The charity believes investing in support for very young children must be a priority for the next Scottish government, and said it is crucial there is substantial investment in public services so all parents in Scotland are supported to give their children the best start in life.
A Scottish Government spokesman said that along with Solace (the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers) it established the Children and Family Collective Leadership Group to consider the impacts of the pandemic on children, young people and families, and the actions required by local and national government.
Among recommended actions was that families should know what support is available to them and how to access it.
He added: “The National Family Support Directory, developed in collaboration with key partners including the third sector, is available to families on the Parent Club website.
“The Scottish Government provided an additional £15 million to local authorities to respond to children and young people’s mental health issues, with a focus on those brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
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