Support for vulnerable children and young people
Some children and young people rely upon the care and protection provided by schools and other agencies in relation to a range of specific circumstances.
Local authorities (including through joint working between Chief Social Work Officers and Directors of Education) should ensure and prioritise continued care and support for these learners during the period until schools reopen more fully. In doing so, they should consider how best to apply the definitions below whilst balancing the overarching policy aims of reducing the number of children, young people and staff who need to attend school in person as far as possible.
That remains the case. In addition to the broader return to school, the First Minister’s statement of 2 February indicated that a small number of further children and young people with additional support needs should be considered for return to school on 22 February. This should include those across any stages of learning within special schools and enhanced provision for whom there is a clear and demonstrable necessity for the provision of learning and support from in-person provision that cannot otherwise be provided at home. However, these decisions require to be taken within the context of the continued need to manage the number of children and young people attending in-person provision. Therefore the considerations set out below, in relation to the management of provision continue to apply, ie if they can continue to learn at home then they should do so. Further guidance on supporting children and young people with complex additional support needs has been provided.
Vulnerable children and young people – definition
The definition in place since the start of January 2021 continues to apply. Children and young people may be vulnerable because of factors related to their personal development, features of their family life, or because of wider influences that impact on them within their community.
Those children who were considered to be vulnerable prior to the pandemic should have been known to services, and are likely to have had a child’s plan. The pandemic has brought others into this category, for example through loss of family income.
Where a child requires co-ordinated support from more than one agency, this is likely to suggest greater vulnerability, and the plan would be co-ordinated by a lead professional. This would include a range of children and young people, such as those:
- at risk of significant harm, with a child protection plan
- looked after at home, or away from home
- ‘on the edge of care’, where families would benefit from additional support
- with additional support needs, where there are one or more factors which require significant or co-ordinated support
- affected by disability
- where they and/or their parents are experiencing poor physical or mental health
- experiencing adversities including domestic abuse and bereavement
- requiring support when they are involved in making transitions at critical stages in their lives
Children and families may also experience adversity because of the impact of poverty and disadvantage (including entitlement to free school meals), and many will be facing this because of the necessary measures to respond to the pandemic. This will include families with loss of income, experiencing social isolation, or otherwise struggling because of the lockdown.
Decision making for this group
Local authorities and health boards, working with partners including third sector organisations, will either know or be able to identify the children and families within their areas who are potentially at risk and therefore need additional support. The need for additional support can be identified prior to birth, so this should include help for pregnant women.
Crucially, vulnerability is not an exclusive concept, but should take account of all of these factors and others, that means that a child and family may need additional support. The judgement of the children’s sector professionals – critically those working most closely with the family – will be paramount in assessing vulnerability.
Those who work directly with children and young people are best placed to identify children and young people who will require support in order to ensure their wellbeing, as a result of these exceptional phased opening arrangements.
As noted above, when determining which vulnerable children should attend school in person, local authorities and schools should have regard to the overarching policy aim of these exceptional school closures, which is to reduce the number of children, young people and adults from different households interacting in- person within communities (including schools) as far as possible, in order to prevent COVID-related harms. If it is possible for children to be cared for safely and have their learning supported sufficiently well at home, that approach should be preferred.
Named Person (key point of contact) service
Named persons as key points of contact are a very important first response for vulnerable children (as defined above).
Local authorities will consider how best to continue to provide key points of contact during this period until schools can reopen more fully.