We are an emergent team of professionals working in child protection and safeguarding roles focused on the risks and harms to children presented by the climate emergency. We are writing in support of the child protection referral instigated by Cllr [name withheld] on 17 Feb 2023. The referral noted that the children at Holt Farm primary and infant school are likely being exposed to high levels of air pollution which has been identified as causing significant physical and developmental harm to children (see British Association for Social Work and the Royal College of Practitioners for overviews of research and the coroner’s report for Ella Kissi-Debra who sadly died as a result of exposure to air pollution.
The Children Acts (1989 and 2004 and government guidance (Working Together, 2018, para 41) identifies that Local Authorities have a duty to ensure their functions have regard to the safety and welfare of children. Environmental factors are intrinsic to the health and wellbeing of children, and their effective protection. This was referred to as ‘contextual safeguarding. In 2018, Contextual Safeguarding was overtly identified as an area of specific child protection work.
However, we are aware that many Local Authority Children’s Services departments have not yet implemented the necessary organisational changes to recognise and accept contextual safeguarding referrals. We have, therefore, been unable to action this referral via the formal referral system.
We are concerned that the children at Holt Farm school are currently being exposed to high levels of air pollution. The loss of the tree outside the school has likely increased their exposure to this source of physical and developmental harm. The proposed widening of the road will certainly increase the levels of air pollution around the school, and the potential for road traffic accidents as heavy construction traffic increases to support the development nearby.
We would appreciate your support in enacting a child protection process to fully assess the risks and harms that children in the area are currently being exposed to, and may be further exposed to if current plans are enacted. We request that the work currently being undertaken is suspended whilst this assessment takes place as the work itself has been identified as requiring an assessment under the Children Act (1989).
The Climate Child Protection and Safeguarding Team
This is the case of 600 children at an infants and junior school in Essex where a developer had been granted permission to widen a road and create vehicular access into a large housing development directly opposite the school gates.
The School is on the Ashingdon Road, an already very busy thoroughfare which has very few trees. The removal of a large 150 year old oak tree in front of the school to widen the road for the development resulted in the loss of a protective factor for the children. Air quality would be further affected outside the school due to the loss of the trees on the green belt opposite to make way for the Bloor Homes Development.
The proposal to widen the road to enable heavy construction traffic to pass directly outside the school increases the risk the children would be exposed to significantly harmful levels of air pollution.
In addition, increasing traffic, particularly heavy vehicles, raises the risk of significant injuries due to road traffic accidents.
The emotional impact for the children of the loss of an iconic tree that provided shelter, connection to nature and was an integral part of the school environment was evident to parents who struggled to soothe and care for their children. Particularly those children with conditions such as autism requiring enhanced levels of consistency and stability in their environments.