The number of child deaths and cases of serious harm reported by councils rose by a fifth last year, following the onset of Covid-19, Department for Education data has shown.
Authorities made 536 serious incident notifications in 2020-21, up from 449 in 2019-20 and higher than the 498 they made in 2018-19. Reported deaths rose by 35 to 223 in 2020-21, while cases involving serious harm increased by 31 to 284. The remaining 29 incidents included cases involving a child perpetrator.
Under section 16C(1) of the Children Act 2004, councils must notify the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel if a child it knows or suspects has been abused or neglected dies in its area, or where such a child who is normally resident in its area dies outside England, within five days of becoming aware of it.
The bulk of the rise came in the first half of the year – April to September 2020 – encompassing the first wave of Covid-19 in the UK, with 285 notifications made during this time, up from 225 over the same period in 2019.
The DfE data showed that notifications were ever more concentrated on children under one, who accounted for 36% of the total in 2020-21, up from 32.5% in 2019-20.
In a speech to council leaders last November, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said the “pressure cooker” created by the pandemic and resulting lockdown had lead to increased rates of intentional and unintentional harm towards babies.
At the time, she said: “The pandemic has brought difficult and stressful times. Financial hardship, loss of employment, isolation and close family proximity have all put extra pressure on families who were already struggling.
“Poverty, inadequate housing, substance misuse and poor mental health – they all add to the toxic mix.”
The proportion of children living at home at the time of the incident was similar to the previous year – 70.1% compared with 70.2% in 2019-20, while there was a rise, from 82.9% to 85.8%, in the proportion known to agencies.
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