The number of serious child abuse incidents have shot up by more than a quarter in just four years – a jump which has been described as ‘worrying’.
The NSPCC says there were 451 referrals serious enough to refer on to the police or to local children’s services, across Herts in 2011/2012.
But by 2015/16, there were 569 referrals, including cases of sex abuse and children living in squalid conditions - a jump of 26 per cent. Of those referrals, 138 were cases of physical abuse.
“These are very worrying numbers,” said Murielle Maupoint, chief executive of Hemel Hempstead-based charity Hope For Children.
“They reflect a growing trend we are seeing among the communities we work with both locally and internationally.”
She added: “We have supported a number of local families in the last few months through our small grants scheme, including those affected by these issues and some of the funds raised by our recently launched Big Playdate campaign will go towards helping children caught up in abusive situations.”
In light of the figures, Hertfordshire County Council has stressed that it works closely with the police and the Hertfordshire Safeguarding Children Board to ‘ensure the safety of children and young people throughout the county’.
But the council thinks that the figures can also be seen in a positive light because it illustrates how families are not suffering in silence.
Richard Roberts, cabinet member for children’s services said: “While it is of concern if any referrals of child abuse are made, it is encouraging to know that children feel able to ask for help.
“This reflects the hard work done by the council to raise awareness of abuse among children and parents.”
The council’s Joint Child Protection Investigation Team (JCPIT) has now been in operation for four years.
It is a co-located team of social workers and police officers which the council says has had ‘a positive impact on joint working and timely intervention’ when disclosures of abuse are made by children.
Schools have regular training on safeguarding and the council provides help to deliver a PSHE curriculum which includes education on safe sex and healthy relationships.
The authority also developed - in partnership with school nursing - a toolkit for school staff to increase their confidence in talking to young people about sex and relationships and to provide support to young people who need it.
Mr Roberts added: “To support this, we encourage schools to take part in our Healthy Schools programme and achieve accredited status.
“We have developed a website to tackle child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Hertfordshire, which offers information and advice to young people, parents and professionals.
“In addition, our Youth Connexions service offers workshops in schools to give young people the support they need to make safe, informed decisions about healthy relationships. The sessions cover topics including staying safe online, sexting, sexual consent and sexual violence.”
Go to www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/cse