Find the lost children of lockdown: Inquiry launched to track down up to 100,000 pupils who have ‘fallen off the radar’ and not returned to the classroom since the pandemic began in wake of little Arthur’s murder
- Dame Rachel de Souza said pupils disappearing from school roll was a ‘red flag’
- Warned Arthur’s murder showed why ‘vulnerable children need to be in school’
- It is feared thousands of children could have fallen victim to evil criminal gangs
An inquiry was launched today to track down tens of thousands of children who have ‘fallen off the radar’ and not returned to the classroom after lockdown.
Dame Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said pupils disappearing from the school roll – estimated at between 80,000 and 100,000 – was a ‘major red flag’.
She warned the murder of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, who was tortured, poisoned and eventually beaten to death by his father and stepmother during the first lockdown, showed why ‘vulnerable children need to be in school’.
‘We are always worried about children being pulled into gangs because they are not in school, we are worried about children with huge family safeguarding issues, we are worried about their mental health needs not being met, so they are falling right off the radar,’ Dame Rachel told the Telegraph.
‘The most vulnerable children are the children we need to be getting into school, and we need to know about them and know about their lives.’
Emma Tustin, 32, was convicted of murdering Arthur last month and sentenced to life with a minimum term of 29 years, while his father, 29-year-old Thomas Hughes, was found guilty of manslaughter and jailed for 21 years.
The Children’s Commissioner is now running a pilot with 10 local councils that aims to gather data on how many children are missing from mainstream education.
It is feared that tens of thousands of children have lost touch with the authorities and could have fallen prey to gangs.
In December, former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said ‘extremely vulnerable’ children like Arthur had ‘slipped from view’ during the pandemic.
She warned that measures had not yet been put in place to deal with a ‘lack of co-ordination and lack of data-sharing’ among agencies dealing with child protection in England.
It came as an MP and former children’s minister warned Covid had ‘exacerbated’ the issues around spotting and dealing with child abuse cases.
Tim Loughton, who served as Minister for Children and Families under David Cameron from 2010 to 2012, said cases like Arthur’s were happening ‘off the radar’ and ‘behind closed doors’ during lockdown and that they may have been picked up in schools or outside the home.
A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Our top priority continues to be supporting all children to attend school or college. Our attendance alliance brings together national leaders to spread best practice to improve attendance right across the country.
‘They will be responsible for making sure everyone working on the ground with children, as a teacher, football coach, mental health worker or in any other role, has the tools and resources they need to break down barriers to children attending school.’