Almost 7,000 Southend children vulnerable during lockdown, claim

Thousands of children in Southend are living in homes where there is a “toxic trio” of abuse during lockdown, new figures have revealed.

Data published by the UK’s Children’s Commissioner this week estimates that 6,920 Southend children live in homes where there is domestic violence, alcohol or drug dependency and severe mental ill-health, dubbed a “toxic trio”.

A further 2,530 children live in households where a parent has suffered domestic abuse – 156 of those children are under the age of one.

The data is part of a project undertaken by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, which estimates the number of children at risk by combining data from sources such as the Office of National Statistics, Department of Education, A&E attendances and Universal Credit.

While the commissioner has said the project is creating the “only comprehensive data on risks to children”, Southend Councillor Anne Jones, who oversees children and learning, said she disagrees and does not “recognise” the numbers.

“While we don’t recognise the figures supplied by the Children’s Commissioner, we believe they have combined numbers from different sources, domestic violence is never okay and it is made more complicated when children are in the same home,” she said.

“I want to reassure everyone in Southend that the council is doing all it can to provide support to all children, including those in a household with known domestic violence.

“A multi-agency team considers safeguarding for high risk domestic violence victims and their families to make sure appropriate actions are in place.

“Our children’s social care services continue to work hard to safeguard all children and we are working closely with our schools, partner organisations and local charities to provide a joint approach to supporting those children and their families.”

She explained this includes weekly, or at times daily, contact depending on a child’s needs, and if essential doorstep or home visits are carried out. Social services are also helping families to “maintain emotional and physical wellbeing” and providing advice on issues such as housing debt and benefits.

The borough’s family support programme, A Better Start Southend, called the situation “unprecedented” but stressed that “no child or family” would be left without support.

A spokesman said: “A Better Start Southend is working with the University of Essex to find out more about the difficulties parents are facing and this learning will be shared widely across our network of partners in order to ensure families are supported appropriately, both during the pandemic and after.

“Fortunately, over 90 per cent of A Better Start Southend services are continuing, albeit in a different form, and A Better Start Southend is also supporting our partners in health and social care, who are providing targeted services to vulnerable children.

“No child or family in need should be left without support and we encourage residents to seek out help when they need it.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter