The number of vulnerable children referred to social services in Norfolk has halved since the coronavirus lockdown started, it has been revealed.
A loss of direct contact between children and their schools or health workers is one factor, according to county council children’s services.
Norfolk County Council has been reviewing the department’s work.
Phil Watson, director of children’s social care, said “we’re not unique in this”.
At this week’s scrutiny committee meeting executive director Sara Tough said: “We rely heavily on our universal services [such as schools and health professionals] for the normal safeguarding arrangements to identify children.
“We’re planning to manage a potential surge in demand over the next three months.”
Mr Watson said: “Children at risk of being exploited, either sexually or into criminal activity in gangs – the current climate is only going to amplify risk and we’re seeing fewer referrals for these.”
He added face-to-face support from social workers had continued for about two-thirds of youngsters on child protection plans, while risk assessments had been undertaken for others with face-to-face visits on an individual basis, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.
The meeting did not provide figures for the actual number of referrals the 50% drop entailed, and the BBC has requested figures from the council.
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Officials also revealed just over 40% of children eligible to be in school under lockdown rules were attending.
At the meeting, Labour county councillor Emma Corlett said there were “parents who have not had an unbroken night’s sleep for months” due to a lack of respite care for parents of children with special needs.
Ms Tough said all of Norfolk’s special schools, except one, stayed open to support families, while risk assessments to see the resumption of respite breaks were being carried out.
Scrutiny chairman Steve Morphew highlighted issues with delays over the free school meals voucher scheme, saying: “Some of it was quite humiliating… I don’t want to hear anything like that happening again.”
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