In England the Department for Education(DfE) has lead responsibility for child protection. In 2019 the total school population for England was 8.7 million pupils.
A shocking story broke today on the BBC and in The Guardian about what is happening to some of England’s most vulnerable children during lockdown. I guess people will start hunting down equivalent data for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Let’s hope they have done better than England and we can learn why.
Working with local safeguarding partners DfE has oversight of systems which identify vulnerable children. The children will fall into two broad categories.
There are about 270,000 children who are the subject of an “Education, Health and Care” (EHC) plan. These will be children with learning or other difficulties which will often entail them being provided with close support or other forms of extra assistance.
The second and much larger group are children who are on what used to be called the “At Risk Register” (and still is in practice) although such children should more properly be referred to as children who are the subject of a safeguarding plan. There are about 500,000 of these in English schools. Typically this means the child has suffered from either neglect, or emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or some permutation thereof.
Children in this latter group are supposed to be the subject of regular case conferences with all of the statutory or other agencies who have contact or dealings with the child and/or their carers. Of these agencies, schools are a major partner.
The case conferences are carrying on, virtually, but large numbers of the children they should be discussing have disappeared from school during lockdown.
Every child in the at risk group was guaranteed a place at school during lockdown (as are the children of key workers) On Day 1 of lockdown (23rd March) it seems about 60,000 turned up. That’s 12%. By Friday 3rd April this had more than halved to 29,000, or 6%.
The number of children of key workers taking up the guaranteed places has also fallen during the same timespan so there is obviously something about all parents having some misgivings about letting their children out of the house in times like these. However, the point is vulnerable children probably need to be at school more than any others.
We need to add this to the list of things the authorities should have thought of and sorted out as part of their contingency planning for civil emergencies. As we can never know when the next such emergency might arise we all need to press the case asap before the institutional memory disappears, or distorts.