Virtual care services during quarantine may leave vulnerable Sheffield children at greater risk

Social care services in Sheffield have either moved online or are being conducted via telephone to enforce social distancing measures.

The UK government introduced a nationwide ‘lockdown’ on 23 March to help stem the spread of coronavirus. Non-essential businesses like pubs, clothing stores, cafes, and gyms were told to close to help ease pressure on the NHS.

Sheffield social care services have largely moved online or over the phone, with statutory ‘child protection conferences’ being held virtually and the Children’s Advocacy Service ringing parents to ask for permission to telephone children over the age of 10 to discuss worries, what is going well, and what they would like to see implemented in their care plan. The parents will also be asked questions and both viewpoints will be recorded and passed on to the Child Protection Coordinator. 

Despite efforts to offer their usual services online or via telephone, some people are worried that vulnerable children will be slipping through the cracks at a time when abuse is expected to spike. 

The UK has recorded an increase in cases of domestic violence since the lockdown began [Photo by Juan Sisinni on Unsplash]

According to the NSPCC, isolation can put some children at a greater risk of domestic abuse, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Without face-to-face visits or daily school intervention, these incidents will be more difficult to identify.

The government has pledged £76 million to help support domestic and sexual abuse survivors, vulnerable children, and victims of modern slavery whose suffering has possibly worsened due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The pandemic has also highlighted a startling disparity between areas, with poorer parts of Sheffield recording higher death rates from Covid-19 than more affluent areas. 

Data from the ONS recorded that between March 1 and April 17 this year, 761 people died in Sheffield, with 164 of these confirmed to have been from Covid-19. 

The areas with the highest number of Covid-19 deaths include Crabtree and Fir Vale (18), Norton and Norton Lees (9), Woodhouse Mill (9), and Park Hill and Wybourn (8) which also happened to be some of the city’s poorest. In comparison, affluent areas have recorded lower death rates even though they have elderly populations, including Totley and Bradway (1) and Dore and Whirlow (3). 

Stephanie Peacock, the Labour MP for Barnsley East, said in a column for the Barnsley Chronicle on 1 May that: “This pandemic has highlighted how reliant we are on the voluntary and social sectors.”

Praising those working in essential care services, Peacock said: “The professionalism and dedication of those who work or volunteer within the social sector has been incredible.”

A 66-year-old grandmother from Page Hall has been unable to visit her grandchildren due to social distancing, and was worried they weren’t receiving proper care from their parents who struggle with drug addiction.

The lady, who wished to be anonymous, said: “I usually check on them a few times a week, to make sure they’re being fed properly and the house is clean. Usually they have school and a social worker visiting regularly so I know they’re being looked out for, but now I’m worried they’re not being looked after properly and I can’t even intervene.”

Dave Richards, 34, from Jordanthorpe, had regular visits from a social worker as a child and thinks without these, his difficult childhood would have been exacerbated: there would have been nobody to spot the signs of the physical abuse he was suffering at the hands of his father. 

Mr Richards said: “There’ll definitely be kids all over Sheffield who are frightened, not having school everyday and not having visits. You just can’t get the same service over the phone, because parents can lie and children are too scared to tell the truth. It scares me how many will experience heightened abuse due to being stuck in the house.”

If you have concerns about a child or young person, contact the Sheffield Safeguarding Hub on 0114 273 4855. Emergency calls should be made to South Yorkshire Police on 999. 

Children are encouraged to contact Childline on 0800 1111 for help with anxieties or advice if they are worried about their safety.