Covid-19 And Tackling Child Abuse

With many of us spending more time at home than ever before, sadly, it comes as no surprise that in April, the NSPCC reported a 20% increase in the number of child abuse calls it had received since lockdown. But what is the true extent of child abuse in England and Wales? And will the coronavirus epidemic result in a spike in the number of children experiencing abuse?

At the beginning of 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS), working in collaboration with various different bodies (including the Department for Education and the Welsh Government), released its report, ‘Child abuse extent and nature, England and Wales: year ending March 2019’. It revealed some truly shocking figures.

Child abuse in England and Wales – what we know

The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), for example, estimated that 20% of adults aged between 18 to 74 years old had experienced at least one form of child abuse out of physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or witnessing domestic violence or abuse, before they had reached 16 years of age. That equates to an astounding 8.5 million people.

What’s more, the ONS report revealed that many cases of child abuse remain hidden, with around 1 in 7 adults who had contacted the National Association for People Abused in Childhood’s (NAPAC’s) helpline in the latest year, having not told anyone about their abuse before.

The report also cited that:

  • In the year ending March 2019, Childline delivered 19,847 counselling sessions to children in the UK where abuse was the primary concern; around 1 in 20 of the sessions resulted in a referral to external agencies.

  • At 31 March 2019, 49,570 children in England and 4,810 children in Wales were looked after by their local authority because of experience or risk of abuse or neglect.

  • Around half of adults (52%) who experienced abuse before the age of 16 years also experienced domestic abuse later in life; compared with 13% of those who did not experience abuse before the age of 16 years.

Will the lockdown increase the number of children suffering abuse/the extent of abuse?

Unfortunately, it is still too early to tell. The increase in calls to the NSPCC is one sign that the lockdown may serve to exacerbate what is, when you look at the ONS report (with 1 in 5 adults having experienced at least one form of child abuse), much more common than many of us would like to believe.

If the ONS continue to report on this issue regularly, the effect of the lockdown will surely be seen and will enable us to further understand (and hopefully better equip us to tackle) the extent of child abuse in England and Wales.

Neil Graham, a Partner at Grayfords, comments as follows: “The 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child not only enshrines within it the basic right to life of a child but also recognises that growing up in a family environment in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding is essential to a child’s full and harmonious development.  Sadly, not every child is given the benefit of growing up in such an environment as the statistics above indicate and abuse, whether in the form of wilful abuse or neglect, tragically continues to occur in the UK and elsewhere in the world.  The effect of that abuse may be profoundly damaging not just in childhood but also into and throughout adulthood.  Statutory legislation places a burden on certain individuals and agencies to report child abuse and a burden on other organisations to investigate and to prevent it.  Parents also have a legal responsibility to keep their own children safe and to prevent them from being exposed to abuse. We can advise parents on how to do that within the context of child arrangements under the Children Act 1989 and the Children and Families Act 2014.  Practical help is also available via the links below.”

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