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Child safety fears as pandemic shrinks north and north-east protection register

Child protection registrations fell last year
Child protection registrations fell last year

Child abuse and neglect are feared to be going unreported in the north and north-east after a dramatic drop was recorded in the number of youngsters being added to the official protection register.

Figures show the number of new names being put on to the confidential list of children who are at significant risk of harm has plummeted during the pandemic.

Lockdown restrictions have previously been blamed for contributing to a decrease in referrals about potential child suffering from teachers and members of the public, because at-risk youngsters were not being seen in public as often as usual.

Now, official statistics have confirmed that new child protection registrations in Scotland fell by 7.6% to 3,967 between 2019 and 2020, and then by another 12.9% last year, to 3,454.

In the north and north-east, the number of names added to the list actually increased in most of the local authority areas in 2020, only to fall to a much lower level last year.

The drop in new registrations in 2021 was of 36% in Highland, 30.5% in Aberdeenshire, 28.4% in Argyll and Bute, and 16.1% in Aberdeen City.

The Scottish Government insisted the figures were “encouraging”, with help often provided to youngsters at an earlier stage during the pandemic.

‘Urgent review’

However, Scottish Labour MSP Michael Marra demanded an “urgent review” into the fall in registrations last night, amid fears many cases may have been hidden from child protection agencies.

Moray was an exception among the northern authorities, recording a huge 57.9% decline in the number of names being added in 2020, but then a 15% increase last year.

In terms of the total number of children on the list, after de-registrations are factored in, the number in Aberdeen fell by 41% last year, to 83.

There was a drop of 34% in Aberdeenshire and Argyll and Bute, to 73 and 32 respectively.

Meanwhile, the number in Highland fell by a quarter to 96.

Across Scotland, there was a 20.3% decrease, with the number going from 2,641 in 2020 to 2,104 youngsters last year.

Children can be added to the protection register if concerns for their safety are reported to agencies such as police or social work departments, and after an initial case conference is held to determine the risk.

A child protection plan will be drawn up when a name is put on the register, potentially including their removal from a household.

‘Cause for concern’

Mr Marra, Labour MSP for the north-east, said: “The fall in registrations is a real cause for concern, and is a situation in need of urgent review both nationally and locally.

“The pandemic has not meant child protection cases have went away, only that they are less visible.

Michael Marra MSP

“These figures further highlight the lack of analysis the Scottish Government has done in measuring the impact of Covid-related disruption on young people.

“The only response we’ve seen in relation to this situation is a cut to local authorities and social work departments.”

An Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said: “All agencies in Aberdeen are alert to and prioritise child protection and all concerns in relation to children, which, as the figures demonstrate, are appropriately investigated and actioned.

“We are highly aware of the impact national lockdowns have had on the most vulnerable children and families, meaning that some children were not as visible to agencies as they would otherwise have been.

“In response, agencies have prioritised resources to ensure those most vulnerable were supported during those periods.”

‘Encouraging’

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The drop in child protection registrations in the period tracked is encouraging.

“Robust child protection measures have remained in place across Scotland throughout the pandemic.

“Local areas have prioritised early support for children and families during the Covid crisis, helping to alleviate concerns before they reach care and protection thresholds.”

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