Child domestic abuse reports rise in Scotland as lockdown eases

The relaxation of coronavirus lockdown in Scotland has seen a “deeply alarming” hike in reports of child protection concerns and domestic abuse.

Reports of domestic abuse and child protection cases are beginning to rise.

According to a new Scottish Government Covid-19 intelligence report on children, young people and families, domestic abuse has been identified as a factor in more child protection cases in 2020 compared with 2019, as a result of a spike in reports in the last four weeks.

The report found:

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a 6% rise in child wellbeing concerns generated by Police Scotland over the last four weeks compared with the same four weeks last year child protection concerns being generated by Police Scotland up 4% compared with the same period last year a 16% increase in cases where Health, Police and Social Work have identified sufficient evidence to consider planning a child protection investigation in the last four weeks compared with last year a 7% increase in the last four weeks, compared with the same period last year of the number of children identified as needing child protection plans and while there had been a 7% drop in domestic abuse being a significant factor in children being identified as needing child protection plans in the first 13 weeks of lockdown, the increase over the last four weeks was 7%, meaning proportionally, domestic abuse has been identified as a factor in more cases in 2020 compared with 2019

The report also found that third sector organisations have reported spikes in domestic abuse cases, with children witnessing more severe abuse during lockdown as a result of a lack of access to safe spaces. Organisations such as Children 1st have had to train all family support workers to deal with domestic abuse cases, while Childline said the number of counselling sessions about domestic abuse had shot up by 25 per cent.

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It states: “There were reports of children being present in the room during domestic abuse, including physical violence. Services reported significant difficulties in engaging with children by telephone or other digital platforms, particularly younger children. Many practitioners perceived that because children do not have access to safe spaces or other trusted adults, there are fewer opportunities for them to report incidents and therefore perpetrators were being less cautious.

"Many services reported that, although perpetrator tactics did not change significantly, the impact and risk of domestic abuse was magnified by lockdown. In relation to child contact, services reported that in some cases, parents who had been advised to shield were experiencing conflict over child contact as they felt unsafe to facilitate contact despite court orders/informal agreements. There were continued reports of perpetrators of domestic abuse socialising with friends and family in different households and thus exposing their child/children to other people during contact visits."

The report also says lockdown specific abuse included perpetrators “asking children to show them round the house during video-contact. Services and clients perceived this as a means of extending their abuse by monitoring the victim and/or establishing where they live. There were some reports of abuse, taking place during handovers, particularly in cases where handover was previously facilitated by third parties such as schools.

"A number of services reported that women were facilitating child contact outwith the conditions of agreements/orders, in order to placate perpetrators and manage abuse.”

As a result third sector services have reported an increase in demand for additional support for vulnerable families, and they anticipate further increases in referrrals due to “suppressed demand dueing lockdown” due to under-reporting.

The report states: “Referral rates for the majority of organisations decreased, significantly for some, in the initial 2-3 weeks of lockdown, but there were some indications that referrals were increasing as lockdown progressed. Across the board, there were continued reports of clients contacting domestic abuse services for general support, particularly around gas and electricity, housing and food access. The majority of practitioners anticipated a potential increase in reporting and referrals once lockdown restrictions begin to be relaxed.”

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie said the report’s findings were “deeply alarming”. “We cannot afford to leave victims to suffer on their own and need to learn the lessons from this serious evidence,” he said.

"There has been a big spike in calls to helplines because families are worried about their finances and making ends meet. We can't allow poverty to strike a whole cohort of children and their families. It is time for the UK and Scottish governments to work together to provide a more universal payment to people who have fallen between the other schemes."

The report also found that a Children’s Parliament survey of eight to 14 year-olds, stated that more girls than boys were reporting boredom, loneliness and worries during lockdown, while a “Lockdown Lowdown” survey of 11 to 25-year-olds found respondents most concerned “about exams and coursework, and their future. There are also concerns regarding social relationships and mental health/wellbeing.”

Meanwhile it says calls to the Children 1st Parentline have increased and are “commonly related to financial worries, struggles with having children at home and child behaviour and mental health and emotional wellbeing concerns, as well as issues about parental mental health and contact with children for separated parents.

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