Calls to the NSPCC helpline surge during the pandemic

A record number of adults concerned about children called the NSPCC helpline in the last 12 months, with adults' health and behaviour the top concern.1

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The pandemic has increased the risks of abuse and neglect, with children both more vulnerable and out of sight of people who can keep them safe. 

This has been reflected by our helpline service, which has received nearly 85,000 contacts from April 2020 to March 2021, a 23% increase on the previous year. Out of these calls, 47% led to a referral to an external agency, such as the police or children’s services. 

The top concerns reported to our helpline during this time were:

  • adult health and behaviour (including worries about parental alcohol and substance misuse, domestic abuse and parental mental health), which increased 42% to more than 20,400 contacts
  • neglect, which increased 15% to more than 12,800 contacts
  • physical abuse, which increased 18% to more than 12,600 contacts
  • emotional abuse, which increased 40% to more than 11,600 contacts.

With most children back in schools, the hidden harms they experienced during lockdowns will become more visible. 

The government must now invest in a positive future for children by making sure catch-up plans go beyond just education. In the short term, the harm and trauma children may have faced in the past 12 months must be addressed. Governments need to also use this opportunity to invest in keeping children safe in the future too.


Worried about a child?

If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact our helpline to speak to one of our counsellors. Call us on 0808 800 5000, email help@nspcc.org.uk or fill in our online form.

Sisters, Chloe* and Debra*, found a young boy crying on the kerb outside their home and called the NSPCC Helpline advice. They stayed on the phone for three hours to make sure he was taken to safety. 

Debra* said, “He told her (Chloe*) that he was scared of his mum - that she hits him and he’d been suicidal over it. He kept bursting into tears and explained he’d run away because he’d broken his TV and was worried about what his mum would do."

"Covid lockdown was affecting young people’s mental health and being stuck at home in abusive circumstances were making things worse."

"I called the number and felt confident doing it. Seeing how upset he was, I knew I was doing the right thing. The practitioner was very calm and pleasant and asked lots of questions about the situation. We wanted to get the right help and support and the NSPCC wanted to make sure he was safe.”

*Identities have been changed

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Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC CEO, said: 

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"We’ve been hearing first-hand about the immense pressures families have faced during the pandemic and the heavy toll that has taken on children and young people. For some children, this has included experiencing abuse, bereavement and other harm. 

The record number of contacts to our helpline reinforces the need for Governments across the UK to put children at the heart of their recovery plans. These must go beyond education and address the harm some have experienced so the pandemic doesn’t leave a legacy of trauma for children.

But this isn’t just a job for our Governments. Everyone has to play their part in keeping children safe. And that’s why we’re planning Childhood Day on 11 June when we’ll celebrate childhood and encourage people to get involved in making sure all children grow up happy and safe."

Take Part in Childhood Day 2021

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Play is an important part of childhood, and after the past year, we could all do with a little more playtime in our lives. On Friday 11 June, we're encouraging everyone in the UK to get playing to help raise money to keep children safe.

Childhood Day celebrates childhood and what it is to be a child, while also showing we need to work together to prevent abuse and protect children. Sign up, plan a play day, and raise money. 

Get involved with Childhood Day


References

  1. 1. In 2020/21 the NSPCC helpline received its highest number of contacts since the current recording method was introduced in 2017.