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Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, is today (Saturday) publishing analysis of the extent of child vulnerability around the country, warning that much of it is hidden from sight under lockdown.

The Children’s Commissioner’s local area profiles of child vulnerability will help national government and councils identify how many vulnerable children there are in each local authority area, and highlight groups at heightened risk during the coronavirus emergency – such as those in overcrowded or inadequate accommodation, with fragile parents, young carers, or without internet access. This analysis is being used to inform the Government’s work to create a dashboard by which it can monitor the safety and care of vulnerable children and young people through the coronavirus crisis.

Hundreds of thousands of children in England are living with a cocktail of secondary risks that Covid-19 may exacerbate: lack of food in the house, homelessness, sofa-surfing or living in cramped living conditions, neglect, domestic abuse, substance abuse and parental mental health problems.

The matrix of local child need is the latest stage in a 3-year project by the Children’s Commissioner to ask: if society doesn’t know how many vulnerable children there are, how can it do enough to help them? Her 2017 Vulnerability Report was the first attempt to gather all the available data into one place, and this project remains the  only comprehensive data on all risks to children in England.

The coronavirus crisis brings into sharp focus both the dangers of vulnerable children falling through gaps in services and policy, and the value of good data from the front line in order to identify where help is needed.

Real-time data has been at the heart of the Government’s battle against Covid-19. The Children’s Commissioner is calling for the same capabilities to be deployed to  identify children at risk as the crisis unfolds, especially those who may not be getting help as social work and other services are pared back.

The lockdown has removed most of the usual ways of identifying children at risk. The Secretary of State for Education has this week written to school leaders and local authorities setting out the importance of encouraging vulnerable children into school, which is a very welcome step. However, the great majority of children with a social worker are not attending school, and other community hubs – such as doctor’s surgeries, youth centres, children’s centres and libraries – are closed. Some schools are working with councils to ensure that all children known to be vulnerable are still being seen by professionals; the Children’s Commissioner wants this replicated throughout the country.

In this new environment, real-time data from the police on domestic abuse call-outs, children going missing, or county lines activity; from the NHS on births and A&E attendances; from DWP on new applications for Universal Credit or UC advances for families with children; or from MHCLG on families applying for homelessness support, should be leveraged to give local services some of the missing critical intelligence they need to know which families may not be coping and need help.

In the coming weeks, the Children’s Commissioner will be publishing a series of reports looking into particular groups of children acutely vulnerable under lockdown, such as babies and troubled teens.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said:

“The coronavirus emergency has put hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children in England at heightened risk. While the Government’s decision to keep schools open for the most vulnerable children is welcome, sadly most of them are just not showing up. They are most likely at home, often exposed to a cocktail of secondary risks – a lack of food in the house, sofa-surfing or cramped living conditions, neglect, or experiencing acute difficulties due to parental domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health problems. Many will be caring for parents or siblings themselves in these incredibly difficult circumstances.

“I applaud the efforts of some schools and councils to ensure vulnerable children are still being visited by teachers or social workers. I’d like to see this extend throughout the country.

“Our figures on local need lay bare the extent and nature of child vulnerability in each area, and the extraordinary pressures on some councils to try and protect them all.

“I believe that with the right will, government – local and national – could ensure that all vulnerable children are seen and contact is maintained, harnessing if necessary the efforts of suitable volunteers, those from services which are currently closed or who are recently retired from child-facing work.

“It is essential that children who need help are identified and given the help they need.”

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