Covid-19 is having a severe and disproportionate impact on vulnerable children, a new report has found.

The latest report by the Child Care Law Reporting Project has found instances of severe neglect as well as addiction and domestic violence.

It has also found the pandemic has caused reduced access for parents to children in care and a restriction in services for children and their parents.

The Child Care Law Reporting Project publishes regular reports from the courts where orders are made relating to children in care.

It collects and analyses the data and publishes it on an anonymous basis. This latest report highlights cases in the second half of 2020, dominated by Covid-19.

Project Director Dr Carol Coulter said the Covid-19 pandemic had been difficult for all children but had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable.

Some children in care have been deprived of meaningful access visits with their parents and assessments essential to their future care have been reduced or delayed.  

The cases highlighted by the project include instances where foster carers have expressed concern about allowing access to children, in situations where they or a member of their household are at risk from Covid-19.

This has meant access visits and assessments have sometimes had to be cancelled or curtailed.

Court proceedings have also had to be adjourned, causing delays in making decisions that could affect children throughout their lives.

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Parents experiencing problems with addiction or mental health are finding it more difficult to access therapy that might help them overcome their problems and be reunited with their children. 
 
Dr Coulter also raised instances of severe neglect going unnoticed due to the closure of schools.

Children in two separate cases were hospitalised with infections caused by head lice infestation.

This raised an issue, she said, about whether the prolonged closure of schools meant teachers had been cut off from protecting vulnerable children and the neglect had gone unnoticed for too long. She said teachers were often at the frontline of protecting such children. 

Ms Coulter suggested the Government should consider early vaccination for child protection workers and foster carers to try to reduce the impact as much as possible.

The project said that as in previous publications, this volume of reports sees a disproportionate number of cases involving domestic violence as well as cases involving Traveller families and families from ethnic minorities.

It has also warned that future cases involving parents who have come to this jurisdiction to avoid proceedings in Northern Ireland or in England, may be affected by Brexit "as the legal architecture for transferring cases between EU jurisdictions no longer applies".