10 Jul 2020

Neighbours and professionals are being urged to look out for signs a child may be being abused at home amid fears that vulnerable children are hidden from view during the lockdown. 

The Children’s Society and National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) are working together to raise awareness among professionals including postal workers, delivery drivers and plumbers who are visiting people’s homes and may be able to spot signs of abuse. 

Their new campaign comes as most pupils face an extended summer break, with schools now not set to fully reopen until September. 

The campaign’s posters, designed by The Children’s Society’s national exploitation Prevention programme, urge people to ‘Know, Look, Act. 

Police forces across the country have been provided with the posters, along with businesses and professionals including supermarkets, restaurants and takeaways, foodbanks, job centresCovid testing centres, transport operators, NHS 111 and social workers, youth workers, health visitors and midwives. 

Covid impact

The Children’s Society fears abuse, including child sexual abuse, may have been going undetected during the Covid-19 crisis because children are spending more time at home, where they are less visible to professionals like teachers and social workers and to the public. 

The charity also has concerns that children may be being exploited in other people’s homes – for instance, by being groomed by organised criminals to deal drugs from dangerous ‘trap houses’ in county lines operations. 

Its campaign urges neighbours and key workers visiting homes to look out for signs a child could be at risk including: 

  • Guarded behaviour around particular individuals  

  • Sudden changes in behaviour  

  • Bruises, burns, bite marks or fractures  

  • Children appearing withdrawn, anxious or frightened 

  • Hearing or seeing shouting and violence towards a child  

  • Children seen carrying or using drugs  

  • Children being late or arriving home late in different cars  

  • Unaccompanied children visiting a house where only adults live 

People are being urged to stay curious, look beyond the obvious and report any concerns rather than attempting to intervene themselves. They are urged to notify their safeguarding lead if they are visiting in a professional capacity and to contact police on 101 or 999 in an emergency. They can also call the children’s charity the NSPCC on 0808 800 500 for advice or guidance. 

James Simmonds-Read, National Prevention Programme Manager at The Children’s Society, said: “It’s a real worry that horrific child abuse and exploitation, which might be picked up on quickly in ordinary times could be going under the radar right now. 

“We can all play a vital role in protecting vulnerable children, which is why we are urging anyone with concerns - be it a pizza delivery driver, gas engineer or a worried neighbour - to take responsibility and report them.  

If something doesn’t feel right, it might not be and by speaking out you could help a child escape a really dangerous, traumatic situation.” 

Priority

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, NPCC Lead for Child Protection, said: “Child protection and safeguarding the vulnerable remains a priority for policing. We know the home is not the safe place it should be for all children, and the coronavirus restrictions have left young people at greater risk of familial abuse and online exploitation.  

“There is also less opportunity for a child being abused to seek help or raise the alarm to anyone. 

“Information from communities is a vital part of our work to protect children, which is why we are working with The Children’s Society to raise awareness of the risks to children during the COVID-19 crisis through this campaign which is being supported by forces nationwide. 

“If you suspect that a child is at risk of being abused or exploited, don’t hesitate to call police and raise your concerns – your call could save a young person from further harm.” 

The Children’s Society’s Prevention programme works to prevent and improve responses to child sexual abuse and exploitation, child criminal exploitation, modern day slavery and human trafficking regionally and nationally in England and Wales. It works closely with statutory services, community groups and businesses to ensure they are equipped to identify and safeguarding children at risk. 

The campaign poster can be downloaded here or at www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/csae-poster.pdf 

Media enquiries 

For more information from The Children’s Societyor to request an interview, please contact the media team on 0207 8414422 or media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508. 

For more information from the National Police Chiefs Council, or to request an interview, please contact press.office@npcc.pnn.police.uk or call 07803 903 686.