JSNA topic report: children and young people

11. Safeguarding and vulnerable groups

In Buckinghamshire there were 10,774 referrals to Children’s Social Care in 2021 which shows an increasing number over the last 5 years (from 9,204 in 2017), whereas the numbers have been decreasing in England as a whole.

Children in need

A child in need is one who has been assessed by Children’s Social Care to be in need of services.

These services can include, family support, leaving care support, adoption support or disabled children's services (source: Children in Need of help and protection, Department for Education). Children In Need (CIN), on average, have poorer outcomes in education and a widening gap as the child ages.

The CIN rate per 10,000 which for Buckinghamshire was 272.3 in 2021. This compares against statistical neighbours at 245.1, the South-East at 301.9 and England at 321.2. Since April 2020 (up to March 2022) the number of Children In Need has increased by 18%, from 1,117 children to 1318.

Child protection plans

A Child Protection Plan is a plan drawn up by the local authority setting out how to keep a child safe and how things can be made better for the family and the support they might need.

Children who are subject to these plans will have a primary need related to abuse (physical, sexual or emotional) or neglect. The rate of children (under 18 years) recorded on Child Protection Plans (40.9 per 10,000 population) is similar to the national average (41.4) but significantly above statistical neighbours (32.7). Since April 2020 there has been a 40% increase from 542 to 759 in March 2022.

Mental health

Mental health is the most prevalent issue identified on assessments for children starting Child Protection Plans, particularly for school ages (10 to 15 years), followed by emotional abuse and domestic abuse and violence, the latter being the most common risk to children aged 1 to 4 years.

Looked after children

On 31 March 2021, Buckinghamshire had 510 children looked after (under 18 years). This equated to a rate of 40.2 per 10,000 population and was significantly lower than the England average (66.9) and the South-East (52.9). There had been no significant change in the trend over the previous 5 years and in March 2022 there were 504 children recorded as looked after, a 7% increase since April 2020.

The percentage of Children Looked After whose emotional wellbeing is a cause for concern is 40.9% (83 children) in Buckinghamshire, similar to the England (36.8%) and South East (39.1%) average . There has been no significant change in trend over the last 5 years.

Children and young people in care have significant inequalities in health and social outcomes compared with all children and these contribute to poor health and social exclusion of care leavers later in life (view the OHID indicator definition). In March 2022 there were 257 care leavers in Buckinghamshire.

More than 200 looked after children (41.5%) have a SEN statement or EHC plan, which is above the England average (28.9%) and a further 100 looked after children have SEN without a statement and are receiving SEN support (source: Local authority interactive tool).

Domestic abuse and household violence

Domestic abuse also has serious consequences for children in the household on their mental and physical health, safety and educational attainment. In 2020/21 domestic violence accounted for 23% of all Social Care referrals and there was a 31% increase in recording as a primary concern compared to the previous year. Half of all children who became looked after during 2020/21 had domestic abuse mentioned as a factor in their assessment.

The COVID-19 pandemic saw a significant increase in reported domestic abuse. The 2021 Buckinghamshire Director of Public Health Annual Report showed during the first lockdown (March to June 2020), police data saw a 7% increase in related offences (source: Domestic abuse during coronavirus, Office for National Statistics).

In the 10 months from April 2020, contacts to the National Domestic Abuse Charity Refuge rose by 61% and contacts to the charity Respect which supports male victims of domestic abuse rose by 70%.

Calls to the National Stalking Helpline in the year from March 2020 increased by almost 10%. The lockdown resulted in victims being confined at home with perpetrators.

School closures may have also increased exposure of children to household violence. In-person contact with health and social services reduced. And home visits which may have identified and intervened in risky situations were reduced. Victims reported that the abuse worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially if they lived with their abuser.