Covid lockdown was a 'gift' to child abusers like Finley Boden's parents, campaigners say

  • Helen Westerman, from the NSPCC, says lockdown may have assisted child abusers

Warning: Readers may find some of the details in this article distressing

The coronavirus lockdown was a "gift" to child abusers who "took advantage" of being able to avoid visits and scrutiny, campaigners have said.

The Covid Inquiry is in the process of examining the decisions behind going into lockdown, but there is growing evidence that during that period when the country spent so much time shut in at home, vulnerable children were significantly put at risk.

Finley Boden died on Christmas Day in 2020 at just 10 months old. He was killed by his parents Shannon Marsden and Stephen Boden at the family home in Chesterfield.

At the time of his death, the country was in the grip of the Covid pandemic.

Some charities are convinced lockdown helped Finley's parents and other abusers hide their brutality.

Helen Westerman, from the NSPCC, said: "Children that would have been seen by the public, by nurseries, by schools, suddenly weren't seen anymore. And so children who weren't safe at home were locked in with the very people who could be abusing them with no eyes or ears on them.

"And that meant if you had intent to harm your child you could do it behind closed doors."

In the weeks and months leading up to Finley's death, the family were being monitored by Social Services every week.

Mary Prior was the prosecuting barrister for the trial of Finley's parents and says at the time it was a light-touch approach.

Stephen Boden and Shannon Marsden have been jailed for the murder of their son, 10-month-old Finley Boden Credit: Derbyshire Police

"There were concerns about general neglect," she said, noting there were concerns about "levels of cleanliness" in the home.

"But there were not at that stage any concerns about violence towards Finley because there had been no violence that far."But as national lockdowns came into force, Covid protocols kicked in, making the job of social workers monitoring children at risk much harder.

Denise Monks, from the British Association of Social Workers, says lockdowns "enabled some individuals to avoid scrutiny or to maximise their ability to avoid visits."

She continued: "By saying somebody in the property had Covid, therefore the visit couldn't go ahead. People did take advantage at times of that, without a doubt."

Marsden and Boden were happy to exploit this system, lying to social workers when they did visit, or denying them entry into the house, whilst all the time inflicting pain on their baby son.

  • Denise Monks, from the British Association of Social Workers, says abusers 'took advantage' of lockdowns

Finley's tragic story is not unique.

Just five days after Finley's death, 10-month-old Jacob Crouch died from injuries inflicted by his stepfather Craig Crouch at the family's home at Linton near Swadlincote.

His mother Gemma Barton was found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a child.

Barrister Mary Prior says violence towards children often starts "with something very small."

She continued: "So it might start with a slap or a pinch, or even perhaps a punch. The next time they do it they feel less shame, and then it continues. And something within the brain seems to switch and everything suddenly becomes the child's fault. They become responsible for their own injuries.

"So if they cry because they're in pain, that's their fault. If they're crying because they're just a baby that's their fault. And the violence increases and increases."

At the height of the lockdown in 2020-2021, 233 children died from abuse or neglect - up from 188 the previous year.

There were 536 Serious Notification Incidents relating to the abuse or harm of children by parents, and a 23% increase in the number of calls to the NSPCC Helpline from people concerned about a child's wellbeing.

Helen Westerman, who's the charity's head of campaigns, says lockdown "increased stress" for adults.

She continued: "They may have been worried about their own health, their family's health, money. Being together in one house can be really stressful.

"But I don't think that ever excuses a parent harming their child, or causing their child to die."

  • Barrister Mary Prior says violence towards children often starts "with something very small."

With local authority's finances under huge pressure, social workers straining to cover their caseloads, and many leaving the profession completely, an independent review published last year called for a multi-billion pound overhaul of children's social care.

In response, the Government says it's "committed to providing more support", and plans to invest £200 million pounds as part of a wider reform package.

A National Children's Social Care Framework has also been published, and there are plans to train 1500 more social workers over the next three years.

For some though, it's not enough.

Social worker Denise said: "To me, when you can invest in failed infrastructure systems that waste billions of pounds, you have to ask the question of where the government's priorities are when they're offering £200 million to support the nation's children.

"And sometimes children that are living in some really difficult and vulnerable situations, and even more so now with the levels of poverty that we're seeing."

In May Shannon Marsden and Stephen Boden were both jailed for life for killing their son. Covid and the failings of the system designed to protect children may have contributed to Finley's death.

But for all those involved, there's no doubt where the real blame lies.

Mary Prior, whose prosecution sent Marsden and Boden to jail, says: "Wherever there are perpetrators of violence they will use whatever there is in order to avoid being detected.

"But Covid was a gift."

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