Hertfordshire Police calls on the public to help protect vulnerable children this Christmas

The force is asking communities to look out for the signs of abuse and neglect in young people

Tuesday, 22nd December 2020, 1:40 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd December 2020, 1:42 pm

The Christmas holidays have arrived and while they are a time of excitement for many, the reality is that some children and young people in Hertfordshire will find them challenging.

Hertfordshire Police's Safeguarding Children team is asking communities to look out for the signs of abuse and neglect in young people, and report them if they have any concerns.

he NSPCC reports that more than 31,000 adults logged concerns about children since the first lockdown in April this year, with reports detailing children in scenarios such as living in households affected by drugs or alcohol, suffering injuries and looking unkempt.

Hertfordshire Police calls on the public to help protect vulnerable children this Christmas

Detective Chief Inspector Andrea Dalton, who leads the Constabulary’s Safeguarding Children teams, said: “Many people’s plans for the festive period have likely changed following the Prime Minister’s announcement, and families will now be staying at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“This means many of us will see and hear the comings and goings of our neighbours much more this Christmas, so we are asking people to be vigilant and to report their concerns if they think something isn’t right.”

What are the signs?

It’s normal for children to suffer cuts and bruises whilst playing or exercising, but signs of deliberate, physical harm are usually quite distinct from everyday injuries such as scraped elbows or knees, and often go hand in hand with other signs, such as:

- unexplained changes in behaviour or personality

- becoming withdrawn or anxious

- looking unwashed or unkempt in appearance

- becoming uncharacteristically aggressive

- lack of social skills

- poor bond or relationship with a parent

- knowledge of adult issues inappropriate for their age

- running away or going missing

- being left outside alone and unsupervised for long periods

- crying for extended periods of time

- the sound of shouting, hitting or items breaking.

DCI Dalton added: “If you suspect a child is being maltreated or abused, you might be the only voice they have so please, if you suspect neglect or abuse, say something and report it.

"You could make a monumental difference to that child’s life. It is better to be safe than sorry.”

Staying safe online

Tablets and smartphones still feature high on the Christmas lists of many children and young people, but with them comes the risk of online abuse and exploitation, so parents are

reminded to speak to their children about staying safe online.

DCI Dalton said: “Children and young people often have unrestricted access to the internet and this can leave them vulnerable to online predators.

“It is important to remember that not everyone online has good intentions and we often see the way offenders target children and young people online, grooming them for their own gain and sometimes arranging them to meet face to face.

“Any child or young person can be a grooming victim, no matter their gender, ethnicity or background. It is our job as adults to help them have the confidence to speak out and tell someone they trust if they are targeted.

“Unfortunately the signs of grooming aren't always obvious and perpetrators will often go to great lengths not to be identified, so it is vital we educate ourselves so we can protect the youngest members of our society.”

If a child is being groomed, they may:

- be very secretive, including about what they are doing online

- have older boyfriends or girlfriends

- go to unusual or unfamiliar places to meet friends

- have new things such as clothes or mobile phones that they can't or won't explain

- have access to drugs and alcohol.

If you suspect that a child or young person you know is being abused, then it is important to alert an appropriate authority as soon as possible.

You can let the police know your concerns in a number of ways:

- By reporting information online- By using online web chat at herts.police.uk/contact- By calling the non-emergency number 101.

If you think a child is in immediate danger, always dial 999 straight away and give as much information as possible to the call taker so help can be arranged.

If you do not feel comfortable speaking directly with police, you can approach Crimestoppers or the NSPCC. Remember, say something if you see something.