NUMBERS of children referred to social services due to drug and alcohol problems are likely to rise following weeks of isolation during the Covid-19 lockdown, according to addiction treatment experts.

There were 1,924 cases referred to Barnsley social services that were deemed to require further assessment last year, according to newly-released figures from the Department for Education.

Of these, 183 - around one in ten - were referred for alcohol misuse, and 286 were referred for drug misuse.

The number of cases, covering the year ending March 2019, is the highest in several years after it dropped to 1,261 the previous year.

On March 31, the most recent date for which data is available, there were 1,448 children identified as in need and 2,017 episodes in which social services were required.

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While almost a third of these children had cases open for three months or less, a large proportion - just under a quarter - had been seen for two years or more.

“We must remember that these aren’t just numbers,” said Nuno Albuqeruque, group treatment lead at UK Addiction Treatment (UKAT).

“They’re children, parents and carers whose situation last year was so concerning it was passed to social services to explore and support.

“Our immediate concern now is how much worse their situations may have become since the Covid-19 lockdown was enforced.

“Those who were living with domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse and drug and alcohol abuse now have nowhere to go, nowhere to escape to.

“Unfortunately, we’d expect to see the number of referrals into social care and support services rise during this time, particularly for alcohol misuse.”

UKAT said it’s seen a ‘stark rise’ in the number of people using its 24-hour online advice chat tool.

Nuno added: “We’re speaking with more people than ever about their struggle with drugs and alcohol and how the pressures from the current crisis is affecting their relationship with these substances.

“Many people are using them as coping methods and for some, this will progress into dependency and addiction and will remain with them long after the lockdown measures are relieved.”

Earlier this year, Barnsley was revealed as the worst area in South Yorkshire for hospital admissions due to drug misuse in 15 to 24-year-olds.

According to Public Health England figures, 115 cases were seen by doctors at Barnsley Hospital - a rate of 143.1 per 100,000 people, higher than any other town or city in the region.

The figures showed a higher number of under-18s in Barnsley were hospitalised for alcohol-related conditions than many other areas of Yorkshire, with one in ten 15-year-olds considering themselves regular drinkers.

Coun Margaret Bruff, cabinet spokesperson for children’s services, said: “We’re committed to protecting children and young people in the borough during this difficult time.

“Our Barnsley Safeguarding Children’s Partnership work alongside local services to identify children at risk of harm, and to ensure the wellbeing of vulnerable children and young people in Barnsley.

“Our schools are maintaining contact with vulnerable children, whether they are attending school or not, and we continue to identify families and children who need additional support.

“We’d like to remind anyone that is worried that a child or young person is at risk of harm or abuse, it’s vital that they tell someone.

“We want to make sure that the child or young person gets the help and protection they may need, and that families are also offered support.

“If the child is in danger, call the police on 999 or 202020. If the child is not in immediate danger, but you’re still concerned about them, call our social care assessment service on 772423 (weekdays before 5pm).

“Call our emergency duty team on 787789 if you’re calling after 5pm, at weekends or on bank holidays.

“You can also find more information by visiting our website.”