Protecting children at a distance: A multi-agency investigation of child safeguarding and protection responses consequent upon COVID-19 lock-down/social distancing measures

Research Institution / Organisation

King's College London

Principal Researcher

Dr Jenny Driscoll

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

July 2020

Research Context

Evidence clearly shows that Covid-19 and the social distancing measures implemented to reduce the spread of the virus have increased risks of harm and abuse to children and young people, and reduced the ability of agencies to mitigate these risks and protect children (Green, 2020; Horton, 2020; Romanou & Belton, 2020). Information sharing and joint working between agencies undertaking direct work with children have long been recognised as fundamental to robust and effective safeguarding and child protection arrangements (Laming et al., 2003, Munro, 2011; Sidebotham et al., 2016). The public health response to Covid-19 disrupted those arrangements abruptly for three primary reasons. First, the need to focus on acute adult healthcare resulted in resources being drawn away from community and paediatric work. Second, lockdown and social distancing measures initially closed down or reduced dramatically almost all universal services which provide the main means of identification of child protection concerns and conduit for provision of early help services. Third, withdrawal from face-to-face work with vulnerable families or children at risk of harm denied professionals opportunities to build rapport with families, identify and respond to issues of concern and pick up visual and personal cues as to the welfare of the children for whom they were professionally responsible (Talbot, 2020).

To these challenges was added a concern as to the capacity of all relevant workforces in light of the rapid transmission of the Coronavirus and the need for many professionals to shield on their own behalf or to protect family members for whom they cared. Lockdown resulted in an initial decline in the number of children presenting to hospital emergency departments and  paediatric assessment units (Lynn et al., 2020) and a reduction in referrals to the police and children’s services (SBNI, 2020 in relation to Northern Ireland). However, it has also increased family stressors with well-publicised indications that domestic violence, sexual abuse and online abuse and exploitation have increased (Romanou and Belton, 2020; Europol, 2020) and concerns about the mental health of parents and children, particularly adolescents.

The long-term aim of this project is to strengthen the ways in which organisations and agencies engaged in safeguarding and child protection work together by learning from the challenges posed to multi-agency working by Covid-19. In
light of the challenges to intra- and interagency communication and the impact on joint working of actions taken by individual agencies, the study focuses on safeguarding and protection practice, practitioner working and the multiagency response to the alleviation of the heightened risks identified during the COVID-19 Pandemic social distancing and lockdown measures.


Collaboration and Partnership

Research team:
Dr Jenny Driscoll, Senior lecturer in Child Studies, King’s College London
Professor Andrea Danese, Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, King’s College London
Professor Gillian Douglas, Professor of Law, Executive Dean, King’s College London
Dr Aisha Hutchinson, Lecturer in Social Sciences, King’s College London
Dr Ann Lorek, Consultant Community Paediatrician, Designated Doctor (Greenwich)

Expert partners:
Her HonourJudge Carol Atkinson, Designated Family Judge for East London
DS Steve Clancey, the Metropolitan Police Continuous Policing Improvement Centre (Safeguarding Strand)
Annie Hudson, former Strategic Director, Children’s Services, London Borough of Lambeth
Professor Jenny Pearce, Professor of Young People and Public Policy at the University of Bedfordshire, The Association of Safeguarding Partners representative

Partner Organisations:
National Police Chief’s Council, Vulnerability, Knowledge and Practice Programme (reporting through the cross-government Child Safeguarding Reform Delivery Board)
The Children’s Society
The Association for Safeguarding Partners (TASP)
The Association of Child Protection Professionals (AoCPP)

Expert Reference Group:
Simon Bailey, Chief Constable for Norfolk Police, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on Child Protection (through Lorraine Parker)
Dr Peter Green, Chair National Network of Designated Health Professionals, Designated Doctor for Child Safeguarding, NHS Wandsworth CCG
Sarah Hannafin, Senior Policy Advisor, National Association of Head Teachers
Martin Pratt, ADCS Greater London Chair, Deputy Chief Executive & Executive Director Supporting People Camden, Regional representative on ADCS Council of Reference
Gwen Kennedy, Director of Nursing Leadership & Quality at NHS England & NHS Improvement
Professor Jenny Pearce, Professor of Young People and Public Policy at the University of Bedfordshire and The Association of Safeguarding Partners representative
Hannah Perry, Co-Chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC), Joint Head of Family at TV Edwards Solicitors LLP

Research Methodology

The study adopts a modified Delphi methodology.

Stage I comprised 67 semi-structured hour-long interviews undertaken between June and September 2020 with safeguarding leaders in London from Safeguarding Partnerships, and children’s social care, health, police, law, education and mental health services. Most participants were identified through their professional role and contacted directly, with initial contacts forwarding to a nominee where appropriate. Overall, the participants provided contributions covering 24 London boroughs, although many covered more than one borough or worked across boroughs, particularly where they worked in an acute trust, as a solicitor, or as a police officer.

Stage II comprises a national survey of the same professional groups, which will focus on the evolving concerns and response to the COVID-19 pandemic following the full reopening of schools in September 2020 and during later lockdowns, in order to share emerging good practice and make recommendations on strengthening and ‘future proofing’ the safeguarding system in England. The survey is expected to be administered in January/February 2021 and will be sent to the same seven professional groups through membership networks administered by the project's Expert Reference Group. It will be analysed using SPSS.

Interim reports and publications

Driscoll, J., Lorek, A., Hutchison, A. & Kinnear, E. (2020) 'Multi-agency safeguarding arrangements: overcoming the challenges of Covid-19 measures', Journal of Children's Services,

Driscoll, J., Lorek, A., Hutchison, A. & Kiss, K. (2020) Protecting children at a distance: A multi-agency investigation of child safeguarding and protection responses consequent upon COVID-19 lockdown/social distancing measures. Summary of findings from STAGE 1.

Date due for completion

July 2021
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