Vulnerable children report: 15 May 2020

This is the second report from the Scottish Government with SOLACE and other partners, on the impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown on children and families, and on the ways that services for children have responded. It identifies critical issues for services for children going forward.

Critical themes and issues

71. Many families have been resilient in their response to COVID-19 and the lockdown. They have pulled together, supported each other, and at times appear to have benefitted from having fewer services and professionals to engage with.

72. For some families, or for some members of families, it is likely to have been a period of distress and trauma.

73. It is evident that services for children across Scotland have responded well to the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the necessary measures to manage the impact of the pandemic.

74. It is evident that the impact of the pandemic will continue to be felt for months to come. Accordingly, it will be necessary to reset, realign and reform services to meet the new challenges, learning from our recent experience, and continuing to develop best practice.

75. In particular, there will need to be a co-ordinated approach across local services, as they begin to respond to the anticipated increase in the need for support following the reduction in social restrictions. Just as has happened over the past eight weeks, agencies will require to work collaboratively as part of an integrated GIRFEC approach, to ensure that children, young people and their parents and carers get prompt and appropriate responses, and especially in the following areas.

76. Listening to children's voices and experiences – There is increasing awareness that some children and young people may be less likely to or able to speak up about what is happening within their families while living in isolation, and that it important to maintain attention on how they are supported to connect to sources of help. Drawing on what we know can be the case, this may include children living in households where parents issues may be hidden or actively involve constraining children's expression of what is happening, such as is often the case related to domestic abuse and parental alcohol and drug problems. It may also be the case for children who have fewer opportunities or experience specific barriers to speaking out, such as children with disabilities and children from black and minority ethnic groups.

77. Child protection - All of the evidence indicates that services should be receiving increased child protection referrals at this time, and be involved in heightened child protection activity - but there is less. The UK Government has launched a child protection media campaign in partnership with the NSPCC which is running across the UK. The campaign has been developed by Department for Education for an English context. We are currently exploring options for further awareness raising to complement national messaging from Parent Club Scotland, Child Protection Committees Scotland, Police Scotland and local communications activity. We should also consider why calls to helplines and websites are not resulting in more requests for social work support.

78. Digital exclusion – The needs of vulnerable children and young people must be at the forefront of our efforts to increase digital access, by addressing access to equipment (smart phones, tablets, laptops), low cost and more sustainable provision of access to bandwidth and data, and through support to use online safety measures. This requires a determined, joined up, combined local and national approach.

79. Supporting children back to early learning child care and school – It is recognised that the attainment gap will widen further, the longer that children are away from ELC and school. However, many children state they are anxious about returning, and need to return safely, and vulnerable children will require specific measures and co-ordinated support to take that step. This work is being led by the C-19 Education Recovery Group. It is also important to consider services operating in many communities around about the school day, including breakfast and after school and youth programmes, which may provide crucial care and support for children in normal circumstances.

80. Support for Families – Our key response to the experience of the lockdown, should be to build on the inherent strengths of families, to support them to be resilient to the challenges they have faced and may continue to face. We must guard against medicalising our response, and defaulting to an increase in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) referrals, and work towards the prevention of children and young people entering the care system. Rather we must ground our actions in the principles outlined in the conclusions of the Independent Care Review – especially that families must be given support to promote resilience, nurture their love and overcome the difficulties which get in the way.

81. Sustaining care services – Residential, fostering and kinship carers have provided good support for looked after children during the lockdown. These services will need to continue to be robust as we move forward, for those children who will continue to require them.



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