THE NSPCC is urging the next Welsh Parliament to address the devastating impact that the pandemic has had on children across Wales, as it warns of the monumental scale of support required to help a generation recover and reconnect.
For many children, the uncertainty and worry from the pandemic have taken a toll on their mental health, while others have felt trapped in unsafe homes – cut off from their usual support networks.
Childline has counselled more than 60,000 children and young people UK-wide around mental health-related concerns since the first national lockdown in March 2020, as well as more than 20,000 sessions about suicidal thoughts and feelings.
Risks have been heightened for children living in homes with domestic abuse, sexual abuse, substance misuse, parental mental health needs or other adversities and this combined with the ‘newly vulnerable’ cohort of children created by the pandemic will compound the strain on services already evident prior to the pandemic.
NSPCC Cymru/Wales is calling on the next Welsh Government to retain a commitment to a robust Child Safety Online Action Plan that leads a national protection and prevention approach with a focus on education and training. It warns that intervening early to stop online abuse and ensuring adequate service provision must be a key policy priority for the next Welsh Government, recommending it explores investment and support to grow a safety tech sector in Wales.
Police forces across Wales have logged more than 2,600 online child sex offences since it became mandatory for forces to record a ‘cyber flag’ – a crime involving the internet – in 2015. But the NSPCC warns that the true extent of these types of crimes is likely to be much greater especially during the pandemic when children have faced an increased risk of abuse online, spending more time at home on internet devices and away from support networks.
In proposals set out today by the children’s charity, it’s calling on the next Welsh Parliament to step up and lead the way in preventing abuse and neglect whilst ensuring children are front and centre of its Covid recovery planning.
Support for children to recover from abuse, and online safety, are included in a set of recommendations published by NSPCC Cymru/Wales on Thursday (Feb 25):
- Early and adequate support for families struggling with perinatal mental health, domestic abuse or adversity linked to poverty.
- A renewed and comprehensive Welsh Action Plan to prevent child sexual abuse.
- Ensure every child in Wales is aware of and supported to realise their right to be safe online.
- A concerted approach to disrupt online abuse via UK-wide Online Harms legislation and enhanced prevention through a robust Wales Child Safety Online Action Plan.
- Ensure children can speak out, so they feel safe, heard and understood, and have access to support services to recover from abuse.
- Equip adults with the knowledge and skills to take action when a child makes a disclosure.
- More children get the mental health support and help they need to recover.
Policy and Public Affairs Manager for NSPCC Cymru/Wales, Vivienne Laing says: “We know there isn’t a quick fix to ending child abuse and neglect, which is why the next Welsh Parliament must take a deliberately long view if it’s to bring communities together and successfully overcome the devastating impact of the pandemic on children.
“The challenges faced have been unlike any other generation and the true scale of its impact will manifest in the months and years to come. It’s crucial Senedd members keep children at the forefront of their recovery plans and ensure services are fully resourced to meet this demand.
“The next Welsh Government has a huge opportunity and duty to provide children with the support they need, reaffirm the country’s approach to online safety, and highlight how early intervention and prevention is possible if everyone across the country takes responsibility to keep children safe from harm.”
Since April 2020 the NSPCC helpline has been receiving more than 30 contacts a day, on average, from adults across the UK worried about children living with domestic abuse and specialist services in Wales have reported increased pressure on the already-stretched provision.
If taken forward by the next Welsh government these proposals, which form the manifesto plans of NSPCC Cymru/Wales, would see ministers and Members of the Senedd in Wales taking the UK lead in ensuring children and young people are front and centre of Covid recovery planning in the short, medium and long term.
All candidates have been asked to pledge their support to fight for safer childhoods and further information can be found via https://twitter.com/nspcc_cymru, https://facebook.com/nspcccymruwales and the NSPCC website.
Children can contact Childline every day of the week on 0800 11 11 from 9am to 3.30am. Or they can get in touch via https://childline.org.uk where 1-2-1 chats can be requested 9am – 10.30pm.
Anyone with any concerns about the welfare of a child can call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or visit https://nspcc.org.uk for advice.