A rise in neglect, physical and psychological harm to young children and domestic abuse was fuelled by increased pressures on families caused by the Covid pandemic, a meeting heard.
At last night's (Wednesday, January 19) council Executive meeting, the portfolio holder for education and children's services, councillor James Valentine (Labour, Kempston West Ward) gave a presentation on the Board's Annual Report.
"The Board’s core objectives are to co-ordinate and hold partners to account, to make sure that protecting children in Bedford borough, who might be or who are at risk, and to ensure that all partners learn from any serious safeguarding concerns," he said.
"The board’s priorities were set before the Covid pandemic and its associated safeguarding activities remained in place throughout the pandemic.
"The work of the board and its sub-groups continued as expected with the acknowledgement that inevitably the pandemic will have impact on children, families, communities, as well as practitioners personally and professionally.
"How the pandemic will have impacted and affected children, families, and practitioners long-term will not be known for a while.
"But there’s certainly an indication that Covid has led to increased pressures on families, especially during the lockdown, leading to increased in cases of neglect, physical and psychological harm to young children, and domestic abuse.
"Not only have we seen an increase in demand for family support, but it's become clear that the complexity of need has also increased over the year for some of our most vulnerable children.
"The closure or partial closure of schools has posed a particular threat because schools know children very well and the majority of safeguarding referrals come from schools," he explained.
"The work of the educational welfare officers was crucial in helping families through this difficult period in supporting children not in school, often those with vulnerable adults in the family, and easing their safe return to school when appropriate.
"The virtual school worked throughout this period ensuring that education was delivered to our looked after children, distributing laptops and helping and making the most of this difficult period," he said.
Councillor Louise Jackson (Labour, Harpur Ward) the portfolio holder for health and wellbeing, said: "I think we’re only just beginning to understand what the impacts of Covid might be on young people and their mental health.
"So it is really important that we keep our young people in school and do everything that we can keep them safe, that they can remain in school.
"Which is why, and I will just make this point now, it's very disappointing that mask-wearing and other mitigations aren't being taken seriously by government.
"Keeping kids in school has got to be the most important thing here, because that is what is best for them, and if we remove those mitigations there is a chance that won't be able to happen.
We've seen a large number of cases of Covid in our schools and I think it's really important that we do everything that we can to keep people safe and keep them in the settings where they are safest.
"We've made good strides here in Bedford, but I think it's very important that happens," she said.