THE Children’s Society has said that safeguarding must become “everyone’s responsibility” if children are to be protected from abuse during the summer break.
The charity launched a campaign this week to encourage neighbours and professionals, including postal workers and delivery drivers, to report possible signs of child abuse. It is concerned that, because schools are not fully reopening until September, forms of abuse normally detected by teachers may go unnoticed.
Workplaces across the country have been given posters with the campaign slogan “Know, Look, Act” to display. They include, as well as police stations, supermarkets, restaurants and takeaways, foodbanks, job centres, Covid-testing centres, and transport operators. Professionals such as social workers, youth workers, health visitors, midwives, and those working at NHS 111 have also been asked by the Children’s Society to be vigilant, and to call the NSPCC for advice, or the police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.
The national Prevention Programme manager for the Children’s Society, James Simmonds-Read, said that, while online abuse of children was a serious issue, the “Know, Look, Act” campaign was about trying to spot abuse through “direct contact”.
“Of children who experience sexual abuse, most of it will be in the family home,” he said. “We have also seen an increase in the number of homes being taken over by organised crime groups, with children being groomed into holding, carrying, and moving drugs, as well as taking part in fraud and theft. Young people are also being transported into home environments that are not safe spaces.”
The charity has said that signs of abuse could include children being more guarded around particular individuals; showing sudden changes in their behaviour; exhibiting bruises, burns, bite marks, or fractures; or appearing withdrawn, anxious, or frightened. If adults hear or see shouting and violence towards a child, see them carrying or using drugs, being late or arriving home late in different cars, or visiting a house where only adults live, then these could also be indicators of abuse.
Mr Simmonds-Read also said, however: “We need to change our perception of victims. Kids don’t always act like ‘victims’. They could be 17- or 16-year-olds that are showing a lot of anger, which doesn’t mean they are always criminals or gang members. Anger is often a sign of trauma.”
He said: “Many people think it’s not their responsibility, that it’s just up to the police, and that they shouldn’t negatively impact their neighbours and local relationships. However, we want people to realise that, if they make a call, it just means their concerns are being picked up by the right people. We don’t need people to make a judgement, but simply to act on their instincts.”
He said that there had been effort from the Government to address the problem, but that it needed to go further: “There needs to be more funding: this was an issue even before the pandemic, but, since Covid, half of the £3.2 billion given to councils was only for adult social care.
“The funding available for children’s services has fallen by £2.2 billion in the last decade, which means that ‘early-help’ services, where interventions happen before children experience really horrific abuse, have been negatively affected. There’s an urgent need for this to be addressed.”
He said that, overall, “we can’t protect everyone, which means safeguarding must be everyone’s responsibility. Any child can be vulnerable. Making a call could save a child’s life.”