Babies more at risk as lockdown creates ‘toxic mix of pressures’

Friday, November 6, 2020

Vulnerable babies and children may be increasingly at risk during the Covid-19 pandemic amid mounting tension in families, warns Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman.

The pandemic has brought on stressful times.
The pandemic has brought on stressful times.

There has been a rise in reports of babies who have died or been seriously harmed through abuse or neglect since April, according to Ofsted.

Speaking at the National Children and Adults Services Conference today (6 November), Amanda Spielman called on local authority professionals to be ‘alive to this hidden danger’ to ensure vulnerable young children are protected.

Councils have to report any serious incidents where a child dies or is harmed through abuse or neglect to the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel. These notifications are then shared with Ofsted and the Government.

Ms Spielman reported that each week it is seeing more notifications about harm to children under the age of one and that the lockdown has added to a ‘toxic mix’ of pressures.

Between April and October this year, the inspectorate saw more than 300 serious incident notifications and nearly two in five were about babies – which is over a fifth more than in the same period of last year.

Ms Spielman said: ‘Tragically over half of these cases – that's 64 children – suffered non-accidental injuries. And sadly, eight died as a result.

‘Of course, babies can't tell an adult if there's a problem. Often, abuse is only uncovered when there's a critical injury, or it's too late. Another young life damaged, and in the worst cases, lost, before it's really had chance to begin...

‘It doesn't bear thinking about. But we must all be alive to this hidden danger.’

As well as babies being intentionally harmed, Ofsted has seen a high number of unexpected infant deaths. This includes preventable tragedies such as babies not being put down to sleep safely.

Ms Speilman added: ‘We're all spending more time at home these days. For most children, that's a place of comfort at best, boredom at worst. But for some, sadly, it's a source of danger.

‘The pandemic has brought difficult and stressful times. Financial hardship, loss of employment, isolation, and close family proximity have put extra pressure on families that were already struggling.

‘Poverty, inadequate housing, substance misuse and poor mental health all add to this toxic mix.’

‘You'll be well aware of the increase in domestic violence incidents over the summer - just one symptom of the Covid pressure cooker.’

Ms Spielman will call on all partners in communities to work together to protect children, saying: ‘Everyone needs to play their role. That includes professionals across whole communities.

‘Midwives, health visitors, GPs and other health workers who have good relationships with families and can build on that trust, while staff working in schools and nurseries who may have information about a vulnerable infant because an older sibling attends the setting.’

At the Early Intervention Foundation, Tom McBride, director of evidence, corroborated that the challenges of being  stuck at home combined with rising financial difficulties has, and will, continue to, put increased pressure on families, creating conditions in which parental conflict is much more likely.

‘The pressures on families and particularly the most vulnerable, exacerbated by lockdown, are affecting children of all ages. While services have worked hard to stay in touch with families, the lack of regular contact and the lack of home visiting, means that the subtler signs of abuse, neglect or domestic violence, for example, are simply much harder to spot.’ 


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