A campaign is urging restaurants, takeaway services and food delivery drivers to look out for signs a child may be being abused at home amid fears that vulnerable children have been hidden from view during the lockdown.
The Children's Society and National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) are working together to raise awareness among professionals who are visiting people's homes and may be able to spot signs of abuse.
The campaign, ‘Know, Look, Act', comes as most pupils face an extended summer break, with schools now not set to fully reopen until September. Police forces across the country have been provided with posters for the campaign, along with businesses and professionals including supermarkets, restaurants and takeaways. The poster can be downloaded here.
The society fears abuse, including child sexual abuse, may have been going undetected during the Covid-19 crisis because children are spending more time at home, where they are less visible to professionals like teachers and social workers, and to the public.
The charity also has concerns that children may be being exploited in other people's homes – for instance, groomed by organised criminals to deal drugs from dangerous ‘trap houses' in county lines operations.
The campaign urges those visiting homes to look out for signs a child could be at risk including: • Guarded behaviour around particular individuals
• Sudden changes in behaviour
• Bruises, burns, bite marks or fractures
• Children appearing withdrawn, anxious or frightened • Hearing or seeing shouting and violence towards a child
• Children seen carrying or using drugs
• Children being late or arriving home late in different cars
• Unaccompanied children visiting a house where only adults live
People are being urged to report any concerns rather than attempting to intervene themselves and to contact police on 101 or 999 in an emergency. They can also call the children's charity the NSPCC on 0808 800 500 for advice or guidance.
James Simmonds-Read, national prevention programme manager at the Children's Society, said: "We can all play a vital role in protecting vulnerable children, which is why we are urging anyone with concerns – be it a pizza delivery driver, gas engineer or a worried neighbour – to take responsibility and report them.
"If something doesn't feel right, it might not be and by speaking out you could help a child escape a really dangerous, traumatic situation."
Chief Constable Simon Bailey, NPCC lead for child protection, said: "Child protection and safeguarding the vulnerable remains a priority for policing. We know the home is not the safe place it should be for all children, and the coronavirus restrictions have left young people at greater risk of familial abuse and online exploitation. There is also less opportunity for a child being abused to seek help or raise the alarm to anyone.
"Information from communities is a vital part of our work to protect children, which is why we are working with the Children's Society to raise awareness of the risks to children during the Covid-19 crisis through this campaign which is being supported by forces nationwide.
"If you suspect that a child is at risk of being abused or exploited, don't hesitate to call police and raise your concerns – your call could save a young person from further harm."