Some children might be at risk because of parents’ reluctance to seek medical help, or support with parenting during the Coronavirus epidemic, according to the Children’s Commissioner for Wales.
Professor Sally Holland, the children’s commissioner, said it was important that parents did not allow the Coronavirus to impact their decision-making when it comes to seeking help:
“I completely understand why parents might feel reluctant to go to their GP or hospital in the current situation. They might feel like they’re putting their children or themselves at risk or perhaps they feel like they would be burdening stretched medical teams with something unimportant.
“But this reluctance could result in children not getting the medical help they need for potentially serious illnesses, which would completely outweigh the risk posed by leaving the house and attending hospital.
“I would like to urge all parents to get medical help or advice for the same issues that would have prompted them to see their doctor or local hospital before the coronavirus epidemic.
“For other issues like extra support if they are struggling at home, families need to know their local authority’s social services are absolutely still running and are still there to give them the support they need.”
A paediatric consultant at the Children’s hospital for Wales said meningitis and sepsis could be among the potentially life-threatening conditions missed if parents keep their children away from hospitals.
Dr Jennifer Evans said:
“On the whole COVID is a much milder disease in children, and children will continue to get other illnesses.
“We know there are significantly fewer children coming to Children’s departments – in our own department this is by a factor of up to 75% as compared to this time last year. This is a rough figure but based on the past 3 weeks as compared with march/April last year. This is a pattern being seen across the UK.
“We are anxious that other conditions that need urgent treatment including meningitis and sepsis are not being missed and want to reassure parents that children’s departments are open and are safe.
“We also want to reassure parents that one parent or carer will be able to stay with their child at all times if they come to the hospital.
“And finally we want to stress that babies are taken for their routine immunisations when they are called – we do not want to see further outbreaks of infections in the future if this can be avoided – and there is a risk of this happening if we do not keep our rates of immunisation high.”
Dr Giri Shankar, Incident Director for the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak response at Public Health Wales added:
“It is important that vital health services remain open to those that need them the most. When accessing these services, it’s vital that you adhere as much as possible to the social distancing guidance and protect yours and your families health, while ensuring they receive the care and support they need.”
The Commissioner also warned that a drop in referrals to social services meant that children across Wales could be going without the support they need.
“Family support services and children’s mental health services are still available, even though they’ve had to find new ways of supporting families. If families are struggling with parenting or family relationships, they should be assured that there is help out there.
“Additionally, if any member of the public is worried about the safety of a child in their community they should discuss these concerns with their local authority, the NSPCC or the police.”
Marian Parry Hughes, chair of the All Wales Heads of Children’s Services Group, which consists of heads of children’s services from all local authorities, said that the majority of Wales’ 22 local authorities were reporting a reduction in safeguarding referrals, and estimated that in her own authority of Gwynedd there had been a 50% drop in all referrals compared to the same period last year, which includes safeguarding as well as a wide variety of help and support.
“Since the start of this period of social distancing and self-isolating, Children’s Social Care has had to adapt to a new and different way of working. We are very aware of the risk of some safeguarding matters not being brought to the attention of our services due to children having less contact with their schools and with the other agencies who usually work with families.
“Due to the overall reduction in the numbers of referrals being made to Children’s Services at present, I would like to assure you that Local Authorities’ Children’s Services in Wales are operating a ‘business as usual’ approach to safeguarding issues.
“This means that we would respond in the same way as usual to any reports of concern or harm regarding a child or young person and will ensure that our response places their safety and welfare first. It is therefore imperative that anyone who has any concern knows that help and support is available and that they can contact the Local Authority with their concerns.”