Safeguarding Board highlights drop in referrals for children that may have experienced harm during COVID-19

16 Apr 2020

The Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) has observed a drop in referrals about children who may have experienced harm to the PSNI and Children’s Social Services over the last three weeks. This is worrying as it may mean some children do not have the support needed in order to keep them safe.

Bernie McNally, Independent Chair of the SBNI, said: “The closure of normal school arrangements in Northern Ireland and the associated nursery and early years provision is likely to have contributed to the reduction in the child protection referrals. It is also likely that other organisations and members of the public believe that services are not operating due to the current COVID-19 restrictions. Therefore the SBNI wants to ask the public to be more mindful of those children in their community who they worry might not be safe at home or who they believe are in need of extra support and protection.  If there are worries for a child, please contact children’s social services or police immediately.

“It’s important to know that the main statutory child protection agencies tasked with keeping children safe and investigating worries about children being harmed are open. Social services and the police are and will continue to respond to worries of children being harmed or in need of extra support and protection.”

The Health and Social Care (HSC) Trusts, PSNI and the Education Authority are continuing to work together to identify vulnerable children and families to provide them with the support and care they need.

The PSNI will continue to work in partnership with HSC Trusts to investigate child abuse and bring perpetrators to justice. The HSC Trusts will continue to support vulnerable children and their families and where necessary seek direction from the courts to make children safe.

Although not in a formal classroom setting, the Education Authority will continue to support and engage children and young people through other education services, such as Youth Service, Educational Welfare and exceptional teaching arrangements. These supports will be particularly focused towards children who are identified as needing the most support and protection.

Bernie continued: “The public should be aware that staff continue to make contact with the children and young people in their service and the Family Support Hubs and the community and voluntary sector continue to provide much needed support at this difficult time.

“However, during these difficult times there are some children who may not be safe from harm at home or who will not get the level of care they need. The greatest worry is that some of these children will be ‘unseen and unheard.  It is for this reason we are asking the public to play a vital role with us, in coming together to help us support and create greater safety for these children.  To do this, we are asking the public that if they have any worries about a child not being safe or not receiving the care they need to contact their local Health and Social Care Trust Gateway Services. In an emergency the police should be contacted on 999”.

To find out contact details of your local Trust Gateway Services please visit:



Notes to Editor

Interview opportunity -

Bernie McNally, Independent Chair of the SBNI is available for interview, please call 0300 555 0117 or email to arrange.


Child protection agencies

Gateway Services are open Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm

Belfast Health and Social Care Trust - 02890 507000 -

South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust - 03001000300 -

Northern Health and Social Care Trust - 03001234333 -

Southern Health and Social Care Trust - 08007837745 -

Western Health and Social Care Trust - 02871314090 -

Out of Hours Regional Emergency Social Work Service - 02895 049999


You can call or email the NSPCC to report a concern about a child or young person

NSPCC Helpline - 08088005000 -

Should a child or young person need to speak to someone in confidence they can call NSPCC Childline – 08001111 -
In an emergency the police should be contacted on 999.

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