Northern Ireland news

170 more children in care than at start of pandemic

There are fears that safeguarding protections have been 'diluted' because of pandemic restrictions

CONCERNS have been raised about the welfare of 'at risk' children due to restrictions caused by the Covid pandemic.

There are fears that safeguarding protections have been 'diluted' because those at risk have not been seen in schools, on home visits or in other settings.

In in an interview in today's Irish News children's rights advocates outline why their concerns are greater than ever.

Claire Kemp, a policy advisor for the Children's Law Centre, said: "Nobody is seeing them outside the home."

"It's a perfect storm," she said, adding that "the damage will become clear at some point."

By January there were already 170 more children in care than at the beginning of the pandemic, Department of Health figures show.

Ms Kemp said a growing number of visits were being done remotely with various reviews delayed due to covid restrictions.

NSPCC Head of Policy and Public Affairs Natalie Whelehan also said with children's services already under huge pressures "the necessary pandemic restrictions have exacerbated child protection issues”.

It comes as the north’s Covid-19 vaccine programme is set to significantly ramp up this week with the opening of the mass vaccination centre in the SSE Arena in Belfast and the launch of a new community pharmacy initiative.

The number of adults in Northern Ireland who have received at least one dose passed the 50 per cent mark on Saturday.

Vaccines are currently available for the over 50s and people with underlying health conditions.

From today up to 8,000 adults per day will be able to attend the SSE Arena while tomorrow more than 300 community pharmacies will officially begin distributing vaccines.

The Irish Government meanwhile has played down any prospect of an imminent delivery of excess Covid-19 vaccines from the UK.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said he was not aware of any specific offer from London.

The comments came in response to reports that ministers were working up plans to share 3.7 million doses with the Republic.

First Minister Arlene Foster has also insisted the proposal is a "runner" and said she would lobby British prime minister Boris Johnson to prioritise Ireland when it comes to distributing spare vaccines.

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