People reminded "safeguarding is everyone's business" as lockdown has an impact on reporting concerns on child abuse
Wiltshire residents are being urged to get in touch if they are worried a child is suffering neglect or abuse, as the usual routes for reporting concerns are limited due to lockdown.
Wiltshire Council has received 300 fewer calls to its MASH (Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub) from people worried about a child, as lockdown measures, schools closures and suspension of clubs and activities mean there are less opportunities for the signs of abuse to be identified and concerns to be shared.
Now, Wiltshire Council, Wiltshire Police and partners are joining forces to ask the public to get in touch if they are worried something isn't quite right, in the knowledge that their concerns will be acted on.
Neighbours, family members, shopkeepers and others in the community and in particular trades people visiting a home are all being encouraged to know the signs and report if something doesn't feel quite right.
People can find out more about spotting the signs by visiting the NSPCC website but there are also some key points to consider:
- Is there anything that worries you about a child that you know or have seen?
- Are there arguments next door, where a child lives, that worry you?
- Do you see anxious looks, injuries, or not see the child you know at all at times?
- Is that child left alone for hours at a time, or seen to be uncared for?
- Are there young ones in your street, out after dark alone, without warm clothes?
- Would you like advice?
Wiltshire Council family keyworkers and social workers have been giving their thoughts on why it is important to report.
Family keyworker Claire said: "If you get that gut feeling that something isn't right about a child or situation, trust it."
Social worker Lana added: "As you read this, children all over the United Kingdom will be experiencing abuse. Unfortunately the safe spaces they could once escape to, such as their schools and the professionals they once trusted such as their teachers, are no longer accessible to them. Many families also find themselves under increasing stress, something that has been linked to an increased risk of child abuse. It is therefore so important that now, more than ever, we all take responsibility for keeping children safe. If you have concerns for a child, please don't hesitate to share these. The systems that safeguard children are still in place, but they need your help to reach the children that need them the most."
Cllr Laura Mayes, Cabinet Member for Children, Education and Skills said: "Lockdown is making it challenging for children and families who need help. Most children are studying at home and are not out seeing friends or taking part in clubs and activities. That's why more than ever we need people to look out and be aware of the signs if a child needs help.
"You could be a neighbour, someone visiting the home as a tradesperson or you could see them in the supermarket or park. If you're worried about a child then I would urge you to call, even if you think it may be nothing - it is best to act. We are here to help families and support them, and your call could make a real difference to a child in need."
Police figures show that in the 12 months ending December 2020, there were 3,826 child abuse crimes reported - a decline of 10% compared to 2019.
Report figures for the final quarter (Oct-Dec) of 2020 saw 1,009 reports of child abuse to Wiltshire Police, down 9% from 1,110 the previous quarter (Jul-Sep).
The Force also saw an increase in violent crimes by a family member, a 9% increase in 2020 compared to the previous year, however child abuse occurring in public spaces decreased by 22% from the year ending 2019.
Det Supt Ben Mant, lead for public protection at Wiltshire Police, said: "Child abuse and it's detection is one of the biggest challenges facing the Force right now.
"With the added challenge of a national lockdown, we have noticed that some children are hidden from services and teachers so our focus has to be on creating a picture of where these children are.
"With the support of the public, we can get a much clearer picture and help those most in need.
"We appreciate it is not easy to report concerns of child abuse and there is a worry that children may be separated from their families but this isn't automatically the case and we, along with our partners are here to help and support families.
"The protection of a child is our main priority and your report to us could save a life."
- If you're worried - make a note of what you see and hear then call 101
- For immediate danger dial 999
- If you think a child is at risk of significant harm for Wiltshire call MASH on 0300 456 0108 8:45pm - 5pm and until 4pm on Friday and out of hours 0300 456 0100
- If you want a general chat to talk about concerns you can also call the national charity NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, report to the NSPCC online or email firstname.lastname@example.org.