When the pandemic emerged last year, the world experienced a global health crisis. The consequences of lockdown ensured that public mental health suffered in conjunction with physical health. For some families, the confinement which followed the outbreak of COVID-19 posed a threat to the safeguarding and welfare of children. Whilst child abuse existed in the UK long before the arrival of COVID-19, the pandemic both brought about and exacerbated existing issues of child maltreatment. According to the NSPCC, the lockdown caused many children to be stuck inside with their abusers and therefore heightened the risk of child abuse in the UK.
For children living in an abusive household, going to school and socialising with friends provided respite from the horrendous acts of abuse they received in their home environment. With the arrival of COVID-19, children had to endure abuse 24/7 with no escape. Child abuse is not limited to physical acts of violence against children however, during lockdown caregiver stress levels were at an all-time high. As a result, children were subject to other forms of child abuse such as neglect and emotional abuse. This can involve anything from a child not being clothed properly to being ignored by their caregiver.
Examples of child abuse during the pandemic:
Caregivers physically harming the child (hitting, kicking, smacking)
Caregivers excessively drinking during lockdown.
Caregivers engaging in drug abuse.
Projecting stress onto the child (in the form of emotional or physical abuse).
Caregivers neglecting the child (not showering the child, allowing the child to wear dirty clothing, not adequately nourishing the child).
Caregivers arguing and creating a hostile environment for the child.
Online Child Abuse
Children were also more vulnerable during the pandemic and at risk of experiencing non-contact child abuse. Non-contact child abuse can take place online; abusers target children by grooming them in online chat rooms. The pandemic facilitated these abusers as more time spent at home equated to more time online. The pandemic saw an increase of caregivers burdened with financial insecurity as a result of the struggling economy; caregivers were more likely to be distracted and as a result, children suffered from a lack of adequate care and were vulnerable to receiving attention elsewhere – in the form of online groomers.
During the nationwide lockdown, children experienced feelings of loneliness and boredom and spent more time than ever online. Online groomers were aware of this and used the following tactics to lure children in:
Pretending to be younger than they actually are.
Showing empathy to a child who may be experiencing a difficult home life during the pandemic.
Giving attention to children who may not be receiving any from their caregiver/s.
Encourage the child to withdraw themselves from their family (to make them more vulnerable).
Child abuse is an inexcusable crime, pandemic or not. If you are worried about a child who you believe to be experiencing abuse, phone the police or go online to nspcc.org.uk for advice. Alternatively, get in touch with our dedicated team of lawyers on 0151 242 5111 to make a claim for child abuse today.