SCHOOLKIDS are more at risk working at home on their laptop than they would be back in the classroom, a child protection chief warned yesterday.
Too much time learning online is leaving many youngsters vulnerable to a much wider range of dangers than coronavirus, according to Emily Konstantas.
⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates
She said reports of paedophiles targeting children on the internet have rocketed since the lockdown began – but others could suffer long-term harm if left alone with a computer.
Lonely, unhappy or attention-seeking kids risk stumbling across damaging content, fall into the hands of county lines gangs or simply forget how to interact with other pupils.
Ms Konstantas, chief executive of the Safeguarding Alliance, which provides guidelines to organisations working with children, said: “We must not allow the coronavirus pandemic to turn into a child abuse epidemic.
Wider impact on children’s physical and mental health
“Over the past couple of months, many children have been using the internet for the first time and suddenly it has become the new norm for many of them.
“We have to take into consideration parents who are under increased pressure and stress at this time. They have work and financial stresses and children are feeling increasingly lonely and parents are providing them with devices perhaps they wouldn’t have had access to before the coronavirus crisis.
“This is a cause for increasing concern.”
The PM’s eagerness to re-open schools next week has also been supported by a report warning that children will suffer lifelong damage because of the lockdown.
Documents seen by members of SAGE, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, predict a wider impact on children’s physical and mental health, education and development.
It states: “A cohort of children have experienced a shock to their education, which will persist and affect their educational and work outcomes for the rest of their lives.
“The current lockdown may lead to an increase in adverse childhood experiences, for example: domestic violence, poor parental mental health, child neglect or abuse.”
Several police forces have reported or predicted a rising number of criminals targeting minors during the lockdown.
Thames Valley cops said they had received 64 reports in March, compared to 26 during the same month last year.
The NSPCC has warned that lockdown is the highest period of risk for online child abuse it has ever seen.
And the number of cases reported to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children had increased by 107 per cent during the lockdown period in the US.
Last week The Sun on Sunday revealed how experts fear ten years of progress by kids from the most deprived backgrounds has been reversed by two months of lockdown – and standards will plummet further without an urgent return to lessons.
Coronavirus UK LIVE: Dominic Cummings in hot water as death toll hits 36,675
LOCK & AWE
Leaders’ lockdown ‘panic virus’ cost more lives than it saved, claims scientist
William & Kate may keep Princess Charlotte at home next month when school reopens
26C mini heatwave from today after cold and windy start to Bank Hol weekend
Family of soldier killed in WW2 finally get letter he wrote days before death
Tory MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons education committee, said the latest revelations highlight the urgent need to re-open schools next month as planned.
He added: “We need to think about the terrible risk lockdown poses to these children which could destroy their life chances just as we talk about the minimal risk posed by them going back to school.”
CORONAVIRUS CRISIS – STAY IN THE KNOW
Don’t miss the latest news and figures – and essential advice for you and your family.
To receive The Sun’s Coronavirus newsletter in your inbox every tea time, sign up here.
To follow us on Facebook, simply ‘Like’ our Coronavirus page.
Get Britain’s best-selling newspaper delivered to your smartphone or tablet each day – find out more.