Neglect, sex abuse, bullying – 480 children ‘at risk’ in Sunderland

Childline School Service volunteer Susan McAllister with pupils at Usworth Colliery Primary School, Washington.

Childline School Service volunteer Susan McAllister with pupils at Usworth Colliery Primary School, Washington.

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THERE are 480 children in Sunderland deemed to be at risk.

These young people have been put on the city’s child protection register to make sure they do not come to harm in their own home.

Most of them – 386 – have been placed on the register due to concerns about neglect, while 29 are deemed at risk of physical neglect, six due to concerns about sexual abuse and 59 deemed at risk of emotional abuse.

Seventy-nine of these children are under the age of one.

It is estimated that for every child in Sunderland subject to a protection plan, another eight have suffered maltreatment of some form.

In the North East, there were 3,600 children on the child protection register during 2011 to 2012.

Now the NSPCC is working to identify and support vulnerable children in the city at the earliest possible time, preventing the need for protection plans to be put in place.

It is hoped the efforts will stop extreme cases of abuse like the killing of baby Alisha Allen.

The five-month-old, killed by her father Gary Allen, was on the at the “risk register” even before she was born because her mother, Claire Morton, had severe learning disabilities and father Allen had anger management issues.

However, Durham Social Services downgraded her case from “at risk” to “child in need” when the family moved from Penshaw, Sunderland, to Burnmoor, in Durham.

It is hoped the new early intervention measures, based on some of the best child protection models from across the world, will help such tragedies.

Pat Buckley, NSPCC service centre manager for the North East said: “Abuse and maltreatment can have a devastating effect on a child’s mental and physical health. Without support to overcome their early experiences, a child can be scarred for life.

“Child protection services are already working in overdrive, so we must prevent abuse from happening to so many children in the first place. By identifying and supporting vulnerable children and their families early, we can stop abuse before it starts and set a new course to give children a brighter, happier future.”

The Childline School Service is offered to Sunderland schools by the NSPCC. It plans to visit every school in the city by 2016, to help every child understand abuse and how they can stay safe.

Using assemblies and workshops delivered to Year 5 and Year 6 pupils by trained volunteers, it is designed to encourage children to recognise situations where they may need help.

Sue Schofield, Childline Schools Service manager for the North East, said: “Research tells us that child abuse can remain hidden for many years with children suffering in silence and other children continuing to be at risk from perpetrators.

“Many children fail to recognise their experience as abusive and often do not know where they can go for help.

“We believe that by sensitively teaching children about how to recognise abuse and where to get help, we can stop child abuse before it starts and give children a safer, brighter future.”

Councillor Pat Smith, from Sunderland City Council, said: “In Sunderland the emphasis is very much on early intervention and working with families in their own homes and their own communities to identify any problems they may have and how to work together to address them.

“Families welcome this proactive and inclusive approach, but sometimes further action is required. Child protection plans are part of that process. They are only put in place after extensive consultation with all those concerned.The safety and well-being of the child is always our paramount concern.”