Child abuse referrals by the NSPCC increased by 42 per cent last year across the North West.

Last year, the helpline made 7,640 referrals, which are conducted when concerns reported to the helpline are considered serious enough to warrant further investigation, to external agencies in the region in 2020/21 - a 42 per cent increase compared to 2019/20.

This echo concerns from the charity’s frontline teams that the pandemic has increased the risks of abuse and neglect, with children both more vulnerable and out of sight of people who can keep them safe.

The top reasons for referrals are also unchanged, with 2,914 concerns relating to parental and adult health and behaviour which includes worries about parental alcohol and substance misuse, domestic abuse and parental mental health.

Sisters, Chloe and Debra (not their real names), found a young boy crying on the kerb outside their home and called the NSPCC Helpline for advice. They stayed on the phone for three hours to ensure he was taken to safety.

Debra said: “He told her (Chloe) that he was scared of his mum – that she hits him and he’d been suicidal over it. He kept bursting into tears and explained he’d run away because he’d broken his TV and was worried about what his mum would do.

“I was really aware that Covid lockdown was affecting young people’s mental health and being stuck at home in abusive circumstances were making things worse.

“I called the number and felt confident doing it. Seeing how upset he was, I knew I was doing the right thing. The practitioner was very calm and pleasant and asked lots of questions about the situation. We wanted to get the right help and support and the NSPCC wanted to make sure he was safe.”

The NSPCC is now warning that with most children back in schools and society, the hidden harms they experienced during the lockdowns will become visible.

CEO Sir Peter Wanless said: ‘’We’ve been hearing first-hand about the immense pressures families have faced during the pandemic and the heavy toll that has taken on children and young people. For some children, this has included experiencing abuse, bereavement and other harm.

“The record number of contacts to our helpline reinforces the need for Governments across the UK to put children at the heart of their recovery plans. These must go beyond education and address the harm some have experienced so the pandemic doesn’t leave a legacy of trauma for children."

The charity is calling for the Governments across the UK to invest in a positive future for children by ensuring their catch-up plans go beyond education.

In the short term, they must address the harm and trauma children may have faced in the past 12 months, but Governments must also use the opportunity to invest in keeping children safe and well in the future.

Nationally a record number of adults with concerns about children called the NSPCC in the last 12 months, as contacts to its helpline surged by nearly a quarter.

The service received nearly 85,000 contacts from April 2020 to March 2021, a 23% increase on the previous year, with 47% of these leading to a referral to an external agency such as the police or children’s services.