THE number of referrals involving children made by the NSPCC child abuse helpline to agencies in Scotland in the last 12 months has risen by 40% through the Covid crisis.
The service made nearly 2,500 referrals to external agencies such as the police and local authorities from April 2020 to March 2021, compared with 1,781 in 2019/20.
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.
Physical abuse reports rose by 42% and there were 490 referrals during the year.
The NSPCC say their analysis echoes concerns from the charity’s frontline teams that the pandemic has increased the risks of abuse and neglect, with children both more vulnerable and out of sight of people who can keep them safe.
The NSPCC is now warning that with most children back in schools and society, the hidden harms they experienced during the lockdowns will become visible.
The charity is calling for the Governments across the UK to invest in a positive future for children by ensuring their catch-up plans go beyond education.
It wants a Scotland-wide needs assessment to build a true picture of the needs very young children across the country and where there are gaps in support, or systems which need to change.
“In the short term, they must address the harm and trauma children may have faced in the past 12 months, but governments must also use the opportunity to invest in keeping children safe and well in the future,” NSPCC Scotland said. “Investment to radically transform early childhood must be the legacy of this pandemic.”
The charity believes that investing in support for very young children must be a priority for the next Scottish Government, because this is a particularly vulnerable stage in life when foundations for lifelong health and wellbeing are built.
“It is crucial that there is substantial investment in public services – universal and specialist – so all parents in Scotland are supported to give their children the best start in life.”
The top reason for referral in Scotland from the helpline related to parental and adult mental health and behaviour, which increased by 86% from the previous year to more than 950 referrals. This includes worries about parental alcohol and substance misuse, domestic abuse and parental mental health.
Neglect referrals rose by 2% to 422, while emotional abuse reports increased by 15% to 289.
One parent from Scotland 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 affect 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 charity said there was also a need to invest in specialist services which support the parent-child relationships so all parents in Scotland are enabled to give their children the best start in life.
Sir Peter Wanless, 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.
“The campaign will celebrate childhood by bringing the nation together to play, raise money and help keep children safe. It will put a spotlight on what it is to be a child, whilst also showing we must work together to prevent abuse and protect children.”
The total number of contacts from across the UK to the NSPCC helpline increased by 23% from 68,932, between April 2019 and March 2020, to 84,914 in April 2020 to March 2021.
Of the total contacts, 39,995 (47%) were referred to external agencies such as the police or children’s services.
And SNP spokesman said:“These are deeply worrying figures.
“We strongly agree with the NSPCC that recovery plans need to go beyond education and include a strong focus on wellbeing and mental health. That’s why we have announced plans for a summer of activity focused on children socialising.
“The NSPCC are also correct to say that it is critical that government invest in services and that is why, for example, we are committed to continuing the childcare revolution – extending a nursery place to more 1 and 2 year olds.”