Lockdown left thousands of children at risk of exploitation, new figures show

10th November, 2021 1:22 pm

Nearly 13,000 children identified as being at risk of criminal exploitation during lockdown could just be the “tip of the iceberg”, an independent commission set up to prevent children becoming involved in gangs has warned.

The Commission for Young Lives says the new Department for Education figures that also show a 31 per cent drop in school referrals to children’s social services between 2019/20 to 2020/21, were “very concerning” for the many children that could now be out of reach.

Former children’s commissioner  for England Anne Longfield, who launched the commission in September with a particular focus on preventing young people falling victim to county lines activity, said the “very sharp” drop in referrals to social services occurred during two school closures caused by Covid-19.

Longfield said the impact of these enforced school closures was still benefiting those that targeted vulnerable young people for criminal or sexual exploitation.

“Even though schools were open for vulnerable children, many did not attend, and it is very concerning that many have dropped off the radar since,” she said.

“We need to ask why we are still losing thousands of marginalised teenagers to the ruthless criminals who are so adept at spotting and exploiting vulnerable children and how we can find better solutions to stop it from happening,” Longfield added.

The latest DfE figures, taken from its annual Children in Need data, reveal 12,720 children assessed by children’s social services in England between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021 were considered to be at risk due to gang involvement.

Although the figures were 13 per cent lower than before the pandemic started (14,700 during 2019/20), the numbers are 16 per cent higher than 2018/19 (10,960), the report states.

It also shows there were 16,830 children where child sexual exploitation (CSE) was a factor during their assessment and 2,710 young people at risk of trafficking.

Children in London were considerably more likely to be at risk of being involved in gangs, with 3,500 identified during the periods of national lockdowns.

Those young people living in the capital were also at higher risk of CSE (2,650) than other areas in the UK.

The second highest area for children being at risk of CSE was found to be the South East (2,540), followed by the North West (2,440).

In terms of referrals, the statistics show 496,030 episodes where a child was referred to social services in 2020/21 compared to 522,990 in 2019/20, a drop of five per cent.

However, figures for the number of times a school made a referral fell from 117,0109 in 2019/20 – before the first national lockdown – to 81,180 in 2020/21 – during which there were two lockdowns which involved school closures – a drop of 31 per cent.

Longfield said the figures highlighted thousands of vulnerable children at risk of being exploited, a problem that could not be resolved without further intervention and funding.

“We are still giving too many abusers and exploiters a free pass to use and harm children,” she said.

“The systems that are supposed to be there to help vulnerable children are under pressure and badly need reforming.

“It is time to find new ways of bringing hope and success to young people who fall through the gaps and end up in danger,” she added.

The Commission on Young Lives will run for a year involving experts from police and crime prevention charities. Supported by the Oasis Charitable Trust, it aims to develop a national system to provide opportunities to divert vulnerable children away from criminal activity.

 

Source: Children & Young People Now

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