Tens of thousands of children are at risk of either gang involvement or sexual exploitation at a time when school-based referrals to social services have fallen by a third.

The fall in referrals is down to the Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions on school attendance. However, it means that thousands of children are slipping through the net with the numbers being classified as in need or given child protection plans at their lowest levels for years.

The latest children in need figures published by the government (DfE, 2021) cover the year to March 2021.

They show that total referrals to social services are down by seven per cent at 597,760. This has been driven by a 31 per cent fall in school referrals. This represents a drop of around 36,000 school referrals – from 117,010 in pre-Covid 2019/20 to 81,180 in 2020/21 when there were two school lockdowns.

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