On Monday 23 March 2020, the UK embarked on one of its most unprecedented chapters in history, entering a lockdown.
Until the pandemic, social care was often seen as the ‘poor relation’ to other public services, like a long-lost cousin. Social care certainly didn’t get the recognition it deserves - from a financial and resource perspective.
However, I would argue that Covid-19 has gone some way in changing that; not only are we now seeing a weekly national appreciation for all frontline workers and a committed investment by government into children’s social care - we’re also seeing a different practice-led approach when it comes to caring for the most vulnerable in society.
While improvements are being made, there’s still so much more that needs to be done, that’s why it’s vital that pressure on government needs to continue to ensure investment and support for those at most risk doesn’t diminish.
Like many other sectors, children’s social care has seen a varied series of reactions since Covid-19 set in. But as a result of flexible working, increased use of technology and localised initiatives across our services, we have started to move into what I hope will be the ‘new reality’ that is children’s social care. Working alongside library services and children’s centres, and taking a proactive approach, has never been as important as it is now.
A common report we are seeing across children’s social care is that the patterns emerging are similar to those in the summer holidays - a reduction in referrals and a general lull in demand. The ambiguity surrounding the safety of vulnerable 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.
Reduced caseloads have allowed for a new ways of working. Local authorities have been able to move 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 children that are most at risk. We have seen an increased sense of shared responsibility between partnership agencies to ensure that children are safe, something that will ideally continue as we exit lockdown, but with added pressures on services like the police, education and CAMH’s, the feasibility of this is difficult to predict.
The summer inevitably also leads to a decreased demand for staffing support and so we must be mindful that if Covid-19 continues to replicate the summer break, then strategic leads in local authorities must have solutions in place to alleviate the resource problems we will see as we phase out of lockdown.
As a Director of Children’s Services so aptly put it: “We now have a common kind of history which we need to utilise in order to understand each other better”, and this has never been so relative in considering the future of our vulnerable children.
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