Councils across England have called for more support after a “harrowing” rise in child deaths and serious cases of harm linked to abuse or neglect of children since the first Covid lockdown.
The number of serious incidents involving children that were reported by authorities have risen by almost a fifth over the past year, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).
There were 536 serious incident notifications in England between April 2020 and March 2021 – an increase of 19 per cent on the previous year.
The LGA said the rise is a “huge cause for concern” and it is extremely concerned about children’s safety – with families under increased pressure during the past 18 months of the pandemic.
Children’s services regulator Ofsted has previously warned that a “toxic mix” of poverty, isolation and mental illness had led to an alarming rise in infants being harmed during lockdown.
Local authorities must notify the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel of the death or serious harm of a child in their area, if they know or suspect they have been abused or neglected.
Councils are also required to inform the education secretary and Ofsted if a looked-after child dies, regardless of whether they suspect abuse or neglect.
Local authorities reported 223 deaths and 284 instances of serious harm in the past year, while 29 incidents were categorised as “other”. More than a third (36 per cent) of the notifications related to children under one.
Council leaders said there was an urgent need for more investment in children’s social care in the government’s forthcoming spending review.
Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “Supporting and protecting vulnerable children is one of the most important roles played by councils … so this rise in serious incident notifications is particularly harrowing and a huge cause for concern.”
The Labour councillor added: “The pandemic has put extra pressure on families, particularly those living in difficult circumstances, which can fuel harmful acts of abuse or neglect on children.”
“Councils have been working hard with their partners to identify this and provide the help children need, but it is vital that children’s social care services are funded to meet this need.”
Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman warned last November that vulnerable infants were at greater risk of harm during the pandemic amid increased tension in families.
She said a “toxic mix” of poverty, isolation and mental illness were behind the alarming rise in incidents disturbing 20 per cent rise in babies being killed or harmed in the months after the first lockdown.
The LGA is calling for a new strategy across government departments to protect children’s safety. “It is only by working together that we can effectively safeguard our most vulnerable young people,” said Ms Bramble.