10th May, 2022 7:34 pm
Charity says children are still at risk post-lockdown amid catalogue of tragedies.
A young girl living in a violent household was threatened with more abuse by her own dad if she, or anyone in the family, spoke out. She suffered emotional and physical abuse, alongside her mum and younger sibling.
When she ‘plucked up the courage’ to call Childline, police were alerted. Her brave call sparked just one of thousands of crucial referrals made to agencies across the Midlands in the past year.
Shirin Khan, Childline Service Head for the Midlands, touched on the ‘really distressing call’ as she warned children were still very much at risk – despite no longer being ‘trapped’ in violent homes.
The demand has far from eased post-lockdown, and high-profile tragedies like those of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, Kermarni Watson Darby and Hakeem Hussain have prompted a spike in service calls. Their harrowing deaths highlight the importance of the helpline and their safeguarding decisions, Shirin said, speaking exclusively to BirminghamLive.
Children have voiced concerns over everything from drug-abusing parents to dirty living conditions in recent calls. Others tell counsellors they are going hungry, being bullied and called names or facing hostility from abusive parents who shout at them.
“Whenever there’s a child death, or a child has been harmed, it does have an impact on our staff,” said Shirin, who has the huge responsibility of overseeing management, alongside working as safeguarding lead at the NSPCC service.
“It highlights the importance of the role they play in safeguarding children and young people – and making sure we’re making the right decisions to refer out to other agencies. It also reinforces why were here, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.”
As a result of the tragic deaths, staff have become “more curious” to explore what each child caller’s world looks like – and how where they live impacts them. Asked whether deaths add pressure to the staff, she explained: “Yes, it does. It brings to the front and centre of mind the key role that we play. We always take our decision-making really seriously.
“But obviously [the death of a child] has an impact in terms of wanting to do the right thing. Listening to children is really crucial in terms of making safeguarding decisions.”
Latest figures show NSPCC’s Helpline made 4,574 referrals to agencies across the Midlands to probe concerns about child abuse and neglect in 2021/2022. That marks an average of almost 13 referrals a day.
One particularly distressing referral, which left a Childline counsellor needing support from a supervisor, saw a child call to break her silence on violent abuse by her father.
“We had a young person contact Childline describing living in a very violent household,” explained Shirin, highlighting the child needed to be kept anonymous – in line with the confidentiality of the service.
“Mum was in a domestic abusive relationship with dad. Dad was physically and emotionally harming this person and also the younger sibling.
“They had found it really difficult to talk to anybody about their concerns living at home because dad was issuing threats that if anyone said anything, then he would harm them even more than he already was doing.
“That young person plucked up the courage, was brave and contacted us.”
Call handlers assessed the two children and their mum were unsafe in the violent household and the case was referred to West Midlands Police. Childline, which has resumed its full 24/7 service post-Covid, was available when other agencies weren’t, said Shirin.
“She wasn’t only worried about her own safety, it was the welfare of her younger sibling she was also concerned about,” she added.
“A supervisor was able to support that counsellor, they can help decide whether the right decision was made; in this case it was resoundingly the right thing to do.”
When Shirin took over the vacant role in the middle of the pandemic, the workload was ‘full on’. But she said the “demands and expectations are very much the same”, only now, more than ever, there needs to be a political drive to make neglect and abuse a priority.
Though we are no longer under restrictions, and children are not ‘trapped’ with abusers at home, the risks to kids and young people remain. And Shirin says everyone can play their part in ensuring children and young people are safe by reporting concerns to Childline.
“Safeguarding is everyone’s business. It’s our responsibility as adults,” she said.
“If we see signs that a child may be being abused and neglected, it’s our responsibly to report those concerns so something can be done. As agencies we have responsibility to work together.
“There needs to be a political drive locally and nationally to make sure that safeguarding and child protection is at the front and centre – that it’s given the priority that’s needed.”
It is crucial to act in the ‘early help stage’ so that children do not have to suffer for ‘long periods of time’ in situations where they are being abused or neglected. “It can have a long lasting impact in terms of physical and emotional development,” she continued.
“I believe very strongly that it’s about acting at the early help stage, intervening early on so parents and carers can receive the support they need in order to care for those children – and those children aren’t neglected or abused. Or if the child is unsafe, then we take timely action to safeguard that child.”
She urged anyone with concerns, whether a child or adult, to get in touch as soon as possible adding: “We’re here for all children and young people; it doesn’t matter how big or how small.
“We would encourage children and young people to contact Childline. We are a safe confidential space where they can contact us about anything that’s bothering them.
“We are available 365 days 24 hours a day.”
At the start of this month, the NSPCC launched its Childhood Day TV Appeal. The advert, which went out this week on TV, sees a member of the public contact the NSPCC helpline with concerns about a three-year-old boy who is experiencing physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his mother.
A voiceover from actor and NSPCC ambassador for Childline Natalie Dormer says: ‘This Childhood Day help us keep answering the calls that can stop abuse. Search NSPCC to donate £20 now.’
Source: Birmingham Live
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