Our action plan to help vulnerable children through current pandemic
PUBLISHED: 09:18 15 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:18 15 July 2020
Executive director for Children’s Services at Norfolk County Council Sara Tough explains how they are helping to ensure no child is forgotten in these tough times
The last four months have brought tremendous challenges for those working across the many services that protect, educate and support children and young people. In the midst of a global pandemic, with schools closed to the majority of children, we have had to work round-the-clock to keep children safe and respond to the many issues facing them and their families.
For some children, home is not the happy and safe place that it should be. For those living in households where there is substance misuse, domestic abuse or mental ill health, the impact of coronavirus will only have added to the stresses and pressures that already existed.
That’s why it’s been vital that social workers have continued to visit families and why one of our first actions in lockdown was to risk assess more than 3,000 children so that we could continue to visit those who urgently needed social work support.
Worryingly, lockdown brought an immediate drop in safeguarding calls to the council, as it did in every council across the country. We responded with a wide-reaching campaign See Something, Hear Something, Say Something, calling on communities to be our eyes and ears and report their worries. We also launched a new phone line for children and young people and extended the online support available so that children and young people had more ways to reach out for help.
Most schools, colleges and early years settings did stay open for our vulnerable children and many teachers have worked hard to stay in contact with those they are most worried about. We have also been supporting families to get their children back to school, where we believe that is the right thing for their child. Sadly, in a few extreme circumstances we have needed to start care proceedings, because the risks had become so great at home.
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For those needing extra help, we have had to adapt our services. Our short breaks residential home, which supports families to stay together, has offered extra respite to help prevent family breakdown. Parents struggling to manage their children’s behaviour have still been able to get help from our support teams despite working remotely. Children with disabilities, who usually have respite breaks have been able to use their funding to buy toys and equipment for home. Virtual meetings have taken place with thousands of children and families, helping to keep very many children safe.
To support online learning, we’re distributing 1,800 laptops to those children who need them most, on top of those we already provide to older teenagers in our care. We’ve also sent out summer challenge packs to help families learn and play at home and we’ve texted and written to families to let them know we’re still here.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has increased the risk of gaps widening between the most disadvantaged and their peers. We expect to see more children struggling with their mental health, more economic hardship and greater demand on social care services. All of us working across Children’s Services are alive to this and while we’ve been responding to the crisis we’ve also been planning for the future.
We know that when schools fully reopen in September a surge in demand is coming. We are working closely with our partners to understand and prepare for the likely impact.
As a Director of Children Services, I am also working with my colleagues nationally to highlight these pressures with government and make the case for sustainable funding to meet demand.
However, we won’t be able to simply spend our way out of this. We need everyone in Norfolk to play their part – whether it’s businesses offering apprenticeships and work experience to our young people; communities continuing to rally round families that need help or volunteers giving their time to youth projects and family support.
Together, we must build on the positives that have come from this terrible situation so that Norfolk’s children are not defined by Covid-19 but by their success, ambition and kindness. We want every child to flourish.
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