The closure of schools as a result of COVID-19 lockdown measures may have harmed children as child abuse was not reported, a new study examining the numbers of child protection referrals made in the first few months of 2020 has found.
Schools play a vital role in the safeguarding of children, with educational staff often being the first to report potential child abuse. When a child is referred for suspected maltreatment, a formal child protection medical examination (CPME) will be undertaken to provide a holistic assessment of a child’s health, document any injuries and determine possible causes, including the likelihood of injuries being inflicted or non-inflicted.
A collaboration between the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust, this latest study analysed the differences in the number and the outcomes of child protection referrals for CPME in Birmingham from March to June 2020 compared with the same periods in 2018 and 2019. As the UK’s second largest city, Birmingham has a higher proportion of children subject to child protection plans than the UK as a whole, with 35% of children living in poverty.
Results showed a significant drop of 39% in the number of CPME referrals, with just 47 referrals in 2020 compared with 75 in the same period in 2019 and 78 in 2018. This drop coincides with the near total absence of referrals made by schools after school closures were mandated in March. Even after schools were partially re-opened in June, there was no increase in referrals. As well as the absence of referrals from schools, results showed that referrals from other sources did not increase either, suggesting that other agencies did not fully compensate for school closures.