Deaths among Britain’s babies soared during the country’s first lockdown and amid the ongoing CCP virus pandemic according to a children’s services and education watchdog.
Between April and October, 64 children suffered non-accidental harm, eight of which died as a result, Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman of Ofsted revealed on Friday.
She told the National Children and Adult Services (NCAS) Conference online that with the pandemic showing “no sign” of abating and a new lockdown in force, infants, who can’t tell anyone when something is wrong, are at increased risk of abuse.
She said the continuing rise in harm to the under one’s was “perhaps one of the most alarming trends that we’ve seen.”
“Often, abuse is only uncovered when there’s a critical injury, or when it’s too late,” she said.
“Another young life damaged, and in the worst cases, lost, before it’s really had [the] chance to begin,” she added.
‘Serious Incident Notifications’
She said that of the 300 “serious incident notifications” since April almost 40 percent were about babies, an increase of 20 percent over the same period last year.
“It doesn’t bear thinking about. But we must all be alive to this hidden danger,” she warned.
She said a “toxic mix” of poverty, poor housing, drug abuse, and poor mental health exacerbated by job loss, financial hardship, isolation, and families locked down together had caused a “COVID pressure cooker.”
In many cases the violence toward the infants was perpetrated by young parents or other family or household members, who had minimal social support, she said.
She called for “all professionals” working with a family with a new baby to check whether parents are coping and if they need help.
Speilman’s call follows growing concern around health visitors and school nurses being moved to help on the front line of the NHS during the pandemic.
In a joint letter in October, officials from Public Health England, the NHS, and the Local Government Association asked Directors of Nursing not to re-deploy health visitors away from their own “front line” of supporting children from infancy.
Andrew Fellowes Associate Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) echoed the concerns and said in an emailed statement that Speilman’s news was “heartbreaking.”
He said new parents were struggling to cope amid the pandemic and health visitors were “more important than ever.”
“We are now seeing the tragic consequences as families miss out on the support they need and serious problems are not identified. As we have entered another lockdown, we cannot allow a repeat of this,” he added.
The NSPCC said in the emailed statement it is “deeply saddened” by the “awful harms” to babies during the pandemic.
“But the pandemic caused a ‘perfect storm’ where vital services and support were withdrawn from many families at a time when they needed it most,” it said.
‘Most Vulnerable Citizens’
It also said in-person contact with families being replaced with online and telephone contact rendered babies “invisible” to services leaving “our youngest and most vulnerable citizens” at greater risk.
“Babies’ must not pay the price for measures introduced to protect the health of the wider population. Government must protect all our children—from pregnancy onwards—during this difficult time,” it added.
Fellowes also said he had last week written as part of a coalition of early years charities to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
He called on Hancock to ensure adequate funding and resources “so no families are left behind at a time when they will be relying on this support the most.”
As well as intentional harm to babies there have also been “apparently preventable tragedies” among the infant deaths, Speilman said.
These included incidents where babies had not been put down to sleep safely for example sharing a bed or sofa with a parent who had been drinking.