Exclusive: 50% rise in children referred to care during coronavirus pandemic

ITV News has learnt that the number of children being referred to care homes has risen by as much as 50% during the pandemic.

Due to the pressures on families during lockdown, a rise in abuse and neglect has led to soaring demand for children’s homes.

The problem has been exacerbated by a shortage of foster parents, as many struggle to take on new duties during lockdown.

One care company, Salutem, told us that demand for its services had gone up by 30 to 50%.

Foster mum Suzanne Duffy had to turn children away for the first time. Credit: ITV News

They are now building nine extra children’s homes to increase their capacity.

The Chief Executive John Godden told ITV News: “Demand really has gone up an awful lot.

"30 to 50% increase in inquiry levels, really notable.

"Lockdown for children who are in foster care, or are in family units that can’t cope with their mental health issues, has had a massive impact."

Meanwhile, the children’s charity Barnardos says it’s seen a 44% rise in demand for foster parents, but a 47% drop in foster carers coming forward.

Children's homes have seen a 50% rise in children being referred during coronavirus pandemic. Credit: PA

ITV News filmed with one foster mum who’s looked after 50 children over the past 11 years, but for the first time found herself turning some down during the pandemic.

Suzanne Duffy told us: “I did have a young child, they wanted a place for the weekend and I was worried that if I just had that child for the weekend, they could have brought Covid to my children.

“Because you can’t socially distance from children you care for.

“You feel, once you have said no, you do struggle with that and thinking ‘should I have just given that child a chance?'”

One of her foster children told ITV News that the lockdown has been particularly difficult for him, given many children in care have complex needs.

Speaking anonymously, he said: "Me and my two sister haven’t been even able to see our mum since Christmas because of lockdown.

One boy in foster care told ITV News lockdown had been Credit: ITV News

“So, it’s difficult. And as we got into it, it just got more and more worse, everyone causes bit of trouble at some point."

While lockdown measures are lifted, the fear is that the pandemic will have done lasting damage to many, especially those unable to find a foster home.

While few children have become casualties of Covid-19, it’s clear many have been left vulnerable by this virus.