The impact of COVID-19 on children's services
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The impact of COVID-19 on children's services

23 July 2020 By Lucy Boyd-Smith - Principal Consultant at Consultancy Plus

child social worker

As COVID-19 changes the world around us, it is easy to focus on the immediate and visible impacts. However, within children’s social care it is the lack of visibility that is concerning and the worry that some of the most vulnerable people in our society have lost their voice to ask for help and with schools closed, aren’t getting the support and care they need.

As a trusted partner to the health and social care sector, delivering urgent drop in teams and outsourced assessments, we are trying to utlise our position in the market to bring together industry leaders to discuss and share ideas on how the sector can change and adapt to try to help ease the suffering being faced and provide a way for these children to get help.

As part of this, over the last few months, I’ve spoken with a variety of senior stakeholders across children’s social care and discussed the impact of COVID-19 on their services. These conversations, coupled with a webinar I hosted at the end of April, Covid-19: The impact on the children's servicesprompted me to put together the following blog. I’ve summarised some of the key themes and trends that are being identified within children’s social care during the COVID-19 crisis.

At this point, we’ve been living in “Lockdown Britain” for almost 14 weeks, however in all honesty most of us have likely lost track on the days and weeks by now! On Monday 23 March, the UK begun one of its most unprecedented chapters in history, entering a lockdown that has affected every single person in one way or another. Whilst we’re slowly starting to see an ease on restrictions and moving into a time that has frequently been referred to as the “new normal”, the impact that COVID-19 continues to have on our society is real. Furthermore, the ambiguity surrounding what the wider repercussions will be on our most vulnerable, is at times a worrying thought.

We won’t go back

COVID-19 has had a transformational impact on our children’s services and we’re unlikely to go back to a pre-COVID model as we move out of this. 

Children’s social care has seen a varied series of reactions since the reality of COVID-19 begun to set in. Like many other sectors, the first few weeks were defined by uncertainness, a sense of the unknown and an overriding concern of the immediate and long term impact this virus would have.

Whilst the NHS saw the impact immediately, children’s social care saw a different trend which many social care professionals compared to the “summer holidays” defined by a reduction in referrals and a general lull in demand. Education plays a key point in the referral, early help, and statutory services and whilst schools in the majority remain closed, many local authorities haven’t been getting the usual quantity and quality of referrals. The ambiguity about the safety of our children and an increase in domestic violence paint a somewhat bleak picture, and the reality of so many children being behind closed doors is an obvious concern which cannot be ignored.

However, as we move into the latter stages of lockdown, we are starting to see referrals begin to return to more expected levels. This coupled with a common consensus that we will see a peak in referrals as schools gradually begin to open means that local authorities have needed to adapt their traditional ways of working. We have seen a variety of new methods developed ranging from online support groups for families under added pressure; visits being carried via video calls; engaging with children through online workshops and carrying out visits to those most vulnerable from a safe distance “driveway visit”.

And, due to this combination of flexibility around working; increased use of technology and localised initiatives across our services we’ve started to move into the “new reality” that now defines children’s social care. Working alongside library services, children’s centre’s etc. and taking a proactive approach has never been as important as what it now is in Lockdown Britain.

Now is the time for innovation and creativity

In contrast, whilst a concerning consequence of current times; the reduced pressures on our front door has allowed for a new way of working and this should be an important tool in protecting our most vulnerable children as we steer though the current climate. “Positivity” isn’t a word we’ve heard mentioned too much over the last few months, but on the webinar I hosted in the first few weeks of lockdown, it was the overriding theme.

Local authorities have moved away from the sometimes-formulaic social care practices that had become the “norm” and use more innovative methods of “walking alongside families” and proactively reaching out to those echelons of children that are most at risk. We’ve seen an increased sense of shared responsibility between partnership agencies to ensure that our children are safe.  Senior social care professionals have mixed opinions on whether this’ll be maintained as the journey continues to re-open Britain. Whilst some believe these improved relationships will continue to adapt and evolve rather than degrade, others recognize the inevitable added pressures on services like the police, education and CAMH’s means the feasibility of this is difficult to predict.

The lessened pressures on the “front door” that COVID-19 has brought means that many of our once over stretched children’s services have had time to re distribute staff to other parts of the service and still effectively support those most vulnerable in the system. Our local authorities thankfully never really saw the decrease in staffing that they expected due to isolation and sickness which allowed them to realign their workforce accordingly. Whilst this lull has led to a decreased demand for staffing support, we must be mindful that if we do see this expected peak as our schools re-open their doors fully, then strategic leads in local authorities must have solutions in place to alleviate the resource problems that we’ll potentially see.

Working together is more important than ever

As we continue to navigate through COVID-19, it’s imperative to remember that the effects of this pandemic are ever changing, not just to children’s social care but to every one of our day to day lives. As a Director of Children’s services so aptly put it “We now have a common kind of history which we need to utilize in order to understand each other better” and this has never been so relative in considering the future of our vulnerable children.

If you enjoyed this read, you can catch Lucy's live webinar discussion here. For any further information or to see how we can help with your social care and recruitment requirements during COVID-19, get in touch with the team!

Categories: Procurement , Public Sector

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