Buckinghamshire Council could see an increase in referrals of children mistreated due to “domestic tension” exacerbated by lockdown when schools reopen in September.

Cabinet members noted the “severity” of cases it currently receives on Tuesday (July 28), while reviewing the council’s Budget Monitoring Report for the financial year 2020/21.

Councillor Mark Shaw, cabinet member for Children’s Services noted a recent interview he knew of in which a civil servant at Kent County Council is planning for a more than 250 per cent spike in referrals when term commences.

While the council does not share Kent’s projections for Buckinghamshire, it did say the service is demand-led and it is “not possible to know the scale of demand” at this time.

It added while demand fluctuates at different times during any 12-month period, “most commentators believe that local authorities will experience an increase in referrals during September and October”.

Cllr Shaw went on to say a spike comparable to Kent would “just flood our system, no matter how prepared we are at this stage for that spike in cases”.

Read more: Multiple child abuse cases reported ‘daily’ under lockdown to council bosses

Cabinet members were reviewing financial pressures exerted by Covid-19, as well as “Business As Usual” (BAU) activities for the financial year.

Children’s Services currently has a forecast Revenue overspend of £6.1 million for the year. Its forecast Capital outturn for the same period is an overspend of £459,000.

The service typically covers education and child protection.

“As I’ve been very honest with cabinet colleagues and I will be again, the one concern we have is what we face when children go back to school as a whole in September and October, and we really do feel we could see a spike in cases,” said Cllr Shaw.

“And in fact just last week the social services director from Kent was interviewed and he said they’re planning for an increase of over 250 per cent of cases which would just flood our system, no matter how prepared we are at this stage for that spike in cases.”

Cllr Shaw’s concerns were supported by council leader Martin Tett, who said children had been in lockdown with “one or both parents and a lot of domestic tension”.

He added there is “potential” for children returning to school “with some potentially quite horrific stories in terms of what they’ve been experiencing”, possibly creating a “big spike” in demand.

Cllr Tett said he personally receives notification on between one and three important cases “every day”.

Adding: “… I get, you know, probably every day, sometimes one, two, maybe even three of these so-called ‘need to know’ cases and they are quite horrific.

“I mean, some of these are stomach churning in terms of their severity and a single child in 24/7 care can cost between £300,000 and potentially up to £1 million pounds depending on the severity of the situation.

“So, you know, these are big numbers and really quite frightening individual situations, they’re very, very hard to control.”

Read more: Council’s Covid-battered budget ‘best guess’ at this time

Cllr Shaw reinforced Cllr Tett’s concerns, saying: “One of the things we are seeing now, but are concerned about what we could see, is the actual severity of these cases.”

He added he too is informed “sometimes on a daily basis” of such instances which are of “great concern”.

“In light of Covid-19, it is safe to say that no-one knows exactly what to expect in September,” said Cllr Shaw.

“However, to manage any potential pressure on the service we have developed our recovery plan to ensure all children within the county are supported.

“We will take all necessary action to maintain the service and will ensure that we remain available to any child who needs our help upon their return to school.”

A spokesperson for Buckinghamshire Council added: “Contingency planning is part of business as usual, in that the service has to have emergency contingency plans in place for a whole variety of possible scenarios. Increases in demand is one of these.

“Should we see a spike in cases within the county, we would ensure all necessary action was taken to redeploy our resources to meet the additional demand.”

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