There are fears that child abuse could go unreported during lockdown despite the increased risks because people do not know where to get help, a survey suggests.
An NSPCC poll of 2,000 adults revealed that more than one in four (26%) are unsure where to seek assistance if they thought a child or young person was being abused or neglected.
When asked whether they were worried about young people suffering domestic abuse during the coronavirus lockdown, more than three quarters (76%) said they had concerns. A similar number were worried about physical (74%) and emotional abuse (73%) of children.
Kam Thandi, head of NSPCC Helpline, said: ‘It is terrible to think that cases of child abuse and neglect may be going unreported because people don’t know where to go to for help and advice.
‘At the moment, we’re increasingly reliant on the public to come forward with their concerns, and if reports drop, we fear abusers will have free rein to harm children, both physically and emotionally.
‘Even if you are not 100% sure, we urge any adult who is worried for the safety or wellbeing of a child to contact our helpline.’
The findings come amid growing concern that vulnerable children are at risk and are missing out on vital support during the Covid-19 crisis.
Schools, colleges and nurseries closed more than seven weeks ago due to the outbreak, remaining open only for vulnerable youngsters and the children of key workers.
The latest Government figures show only around 14% of vulnerable children, those with a social worker or an education, health and care plan in England, attended school on Thursday last week.
On the last day of the Easter break, when many schools were open, just 5% of these pupils attended.
Last month, the Local Government Association (LGA) warned some councils are seeing up to a 50% decline in referrals of children amid a spike in domestic abuse during lockdown.
Judith Blake, chairwoman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: ‘Councils are very concerned about falling referrals to children’s social care.
‘They are working with their partners and communities to try to identify children who may be at risk and putting in place plans to ensure that if referrals spike when children return to school, they are able to ensure children and families get the right help quickly.’
She added: ‘The impact of the pandemic on some children will be far-reaching, and it will be essential that the right services are there to support them.’
More than 1,000 local authority councillors from across England have signed a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, organised by the National Education Union, calling for greater support for local authorities to help vulnerable families amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter says: ‘We also have concerns about support for vulnerable children and the increased calls to domestic violence helplines nationally.
‘We would ask that the Government continue to work with local authorities and schools to ensure vulnerable children do not ‘slip through the net’ and the necessary financial support is available to councils to support families fleeing domestic violence.’
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: ‘Our priority is to keep vulnerable children safe which is why we have announced more than £12 million for projects tackling the increased risk some children and young people are facing alongside providing £1.6 million to the NSPCC to expand their helpline for anyone concerned about a child’s welfare.
‘However, if you suspect a child or young person is in immediate danger call the police immediately on 999. You can also contact the relevant social care team at your local council.’
A total of 2,061 adults in England, Wales and Scotland were surveyed online between May 1 and May 4.