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Social workers in parts of London are braced for a three-fold increase in referrals as children start to emerge from the lockdown.

Staff in children’s services departments at two councils have made detailed plans for how to cope with a large increase in workload when all children are back in school and cases of abuse come to light.

Sarah Newman, director of children’s Services in Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea, said: “Our big worry is children have been invisible. We have been in touch with our vulnerable children, but nobody has had eyes on the children just below the threshold for social care.

“We haven’t had the agencies who usually have sight of children to report concerns. They haven’t been open. Teachers, health visitors, doctors, leisure facilities, all the ordinary places they go haven’t been open. Children going back to school is really important because they are visible again.”

Schools are not expected to open fully until September at the earliest.

About 1,500 children have returned to school in Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea, but some vulnerable children have not.

Ms Newman said: “As each week goes by I am concerned that the inequalities gap gets bigger, and without eyes on children by schools, GPs and other settings we cannot be sure about their well-being. Sadly, there will be some children who are living with abuse and neglect.”

Figures show referrals to social services in Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea, which share a children’s services department, dropped from 400 before the lockdown to 250 in April. The number is now increasing and it is expected to be much higher than normal when all children are back at school.

Ms Newman said she saw what happened in China, where domestic abuse increased threefold in parts of the country during its lockdown, so started to plan for how her department would cope with similar increases.

She said: “When we moved into lockdown we expected that abuse was going to go up threefold and modelled how we might cope with that. We haven’t seen it in lockdown [yet] because there is nobody to make referrals.”