Harrowing child neglect, which has even led to hospitalisations, has gone undiscovered throughout the pandemic because of school closures, a major report on family law has warned.
The Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP), which examines and reports on judicial child care proceedings, found that the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted severely on vulnerable children and their access to help.
Teachers, so often the first line of defence when it comes to discovering cases of neglect, are effectively hamstrung from doing so because of school closures, the CCLRP said.
The isolation of vulnerable children is further entrenched by not being able to go to school, it said.
Some children have ended up hospitalised before their traumatic circumstances were discovered, the CCLRP found.
The impact of restrictions within the Covid-19 window and the trauma made worse by it will likely have a bearing on vulnerable children for the rest of their lives, it said.
Director of the CCLRP, Dr Carol Coulter, said it is clear that Covid-19, which has been difficult for all children, has had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable.
“It raises the question as to whether the prolonged closure of schools meant that teachers, often at the front line of protecting such children, were cut off from them and the neglect went unnoticed for far too long,” she said.
The CCLRP said its latest volume includes cases where children ended up in hospital as a result of severe infection from head-lice infestation, reductions in access for parents to their children in care, and restrictions on addiction and therapy services.
Covid-19 restrictions led to additional stress on parents, social workers, and foster carers — but especially vulnerable children, it said.
Cases include circumstances where:
- Access between parents and children was sometimes reduced or face-to-face access disallowed;
- Foster carers expressed concern about allowing access in cases where they, or a member of their household, were at risk from Covid-19;
- Assessments of both children and parents, essential to aid decision-making by the court, sometimes had to be cancelled or curtailed.
Court disruptions led to adjournments and the ensuing delays in making decisions will impact on children throughout their lives, the report said.
The indirect impact of restrictions may be less visible but no less devastating, the CCLRP said.
“Parents experiencing problems of addiction or impaired mental health, resulting in their children going into care, found it more difficult to access the services that could help them overcome their problems and seek reunification with their children,” it said.