Social isolation and the risk of child abuse during and after the coronavirus pandemic

Publication date 2020

Summary of risks to children’s safety due to the conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic

We reviewed research evidence to assess how likely it is that the conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic are heightening the risk of child abuse in the UK.

We looked at data from the NSPCC helpline and Childline, to see what people have been saying to us since lockdown/the pandemic/the outbreak began. We also examined case studies collected from practitioners working in our service centres, about the impact of coronavirus on the children and families they were supporting.

By understanding the scale and the risks brought by lockdown we can begin to think about how to mitigate them and ensure children are kept safe while at home, online and as restrictions start to ease.

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Key findings

We researched the risks children might be facing and the reasons why these might intensify during the pandemic. Our findings fall into three broad categories.

  • Increase in stressors to parents and caregivers
  • The research we reviewed confirms that the risk of child abuse is higher when caregivers become overloaded by the stressors in their lives. There are indications that the coronavirus pandemic has increased stressors on caregivers.
  • Increase in children and young people's vulnerability
  • There are indications that the conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic have heightened the vulnerability of children and young people to certain types of abuse, for example online abuse, abuse within the home, criminal exploitation and child sexual exploitation.
  • Reduction in normal protective services
  • There is evidence that the ‘normal’ safeguards we rely on to protect children and young people have been reduced during the pandemic. However social connections and social support can provide a protective effect for children’s safety and wellbeing.


We recommend a national and local response from governments and statutory agencies which includes practical steps such as:

  • providing practical support to parents around income maximisation to reduce stresses caused by financial insecurity
  • addressing digital exclusion, ensuring all children have access to the technology they need to access school, therapeutic support and other services
  • comprehensive and long-term funding for children’s services, with at least £2 billion a year invested in early intervention and therapeutic services.


Please cite as: Eleni Romanou and Emma Belton. (2020) Isolated and struggling: social isolation and the risk of child maltreatment, in lockdown and beyond. London: NSPCC.

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