Increased number of children who require protection
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a notable 8.9 per cent increase in the number of children in care, and a 7.2 per cent increase in the number of children on the child protection register.
The Department of Health released a report entitled Northern Ireland Children’s Social Services Data during Covid-19 which sets out that the number of children on the Child Protection Register, as of 30 September 2022, is 2,402. The figure before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic was 2,246, meaning that the number of children on the child protection register has increased by 7.2 per cent, and has been continuously higher, since the beginning of the Covid crisis.
Similarly, there has been an increase in the number of children in care. As of the end of September 2022, this figure stands at 3,661, which is 8.9 per cent higher than the last official figure prior to Covid-19 of 3,362, recorded in September 2019.
The number of referrals to child protection services peaked at 335 per month in November 2020, a period of time encompassing one of the peaks of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The exact causes of the increase in numbers is unclear, but the figures do correlate with the period of time of the Covid-19 pandemic, illustrating that the change in lifestyle that has taken place for many people has had a negative impact on the lifestyles of many children in the region.
This thesis is backed up by research by the NSPCC, who published a report in February 2022 entitled Statistics briefing: The impact of coronavirus. This report found that there is evidence of some forms of child abuse having increased during the Covid lockdowns, with assessment that the figures provided underestimate the true extend of abuse.
The NSPCC further reported that calls to its helpline increased by 23 per cent in the period of 2020 and 2021, as well as a calls to their domestic abuse helpline having increased by 61 per cent in the same period of time, thus suggesting that there was an increase in domestic abuse during the lockdown periods.
Despite the increase in the number of children in care, the number of children who have been adopted from care setting stands at 89, below the figure for 2020 and the figure for 2021 fell to a 10-year low of 57.