CHILDREN’S services in Pembrokeshire are “bracing” for a surge in safeguarding referrals about young people as schools are reopened councillors were told this week.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s head of children’s services Darren Mutter said that preparations had been made for a significant increase in reports of abuse and neglect as children go back to school – where a large number of the service’s referrals come from.

He added at Thursday’s social care overview and scrutiny committee (September 17) that the potential increase in unemployment and  poverty due to the pandemic was also a significant concern for the department.

“It’s possible that safeguarding referrals will now increase and we recognise that during lockdown there will be children who will have been unseen and unfortunately abuse going on unseen because referrals not made as they were not able to be seen by those that pick up on concerns.

“We are bracing, for want of a better phrase, for a spike in referrals,” said Mr Mutter.

He was responding to questions from Cllr Alison Tudor, who raised concerns about the department’s capacity to deal with an increase as well as how the mental health of staff was being looked after.

The committee were told that the department generally worked close to capacity with work levels, of a difficult job, hard to predict and this was common across authorities.

Cases would be prioritised with the “swiftest attention to the cases that need it the most,” added Mr Mutter.

Mr Mutter made clear that no statutory work including face to face visits with children at risk was stopped during lockdown.

He added that staff well-being had been monitored during lockdown and centres where they could access an office setting were now starting to open up.

Prevention work with families and young will also be a key job for the department in helping avoid falling into poverty but there was a “real danger that poverty is going to increase referrals into our department,” the committee were told.

Similar concerns about rent arrears were raised by Cllr Simon Hancock who was told by head of adult services Jason Bennett that the three visiting officers were back from covering other work during lockdown and contacting all those facing arrears to help as soon as possible.

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