The transformation in service delivery
32. Albeit there was an increase in public health measures up until 23 March, when the lockdown happened it had a massive and sudden impact, and agencies had to review how they could provide services to vulnerable children. New models and new approaches developed very quickly, with many examples of good and innovative practice across the country, and a sample of these is included at Annexe A.
33. While the establishment of education hubs for vulnerable children was an early priority (alongside provision for children of keyworkers), many parents and professionals took the view that children should 'stay at home'. Hence, school staff and other professionals, often working from home, had to find innovative ways to maintain contact with children and support their learning. There was also a need to ensure the continued provision of free school meals, for those who are entitled to that provision.
34. Local partnerships swiftly adapted existing relationships and systems to continue GIRFEC approaches including maintaining contacts, assessing and planning for individual children. School and education staff continued to be available for contact with children and parents; and, schools and local authorities rapidly risk assessed and prioritised those most at risk, and identified others that would need continuing support.
35. Children on the child protection register, looked after children, and other children deemed to be at risk, continue to be seen face to face by professionals. The data set confirms that 94% of all children with a child protection plan were physically seen in the last two weeks, and many will be in contact with services far more often than that.
36. Other children who were already being supported by different services, continue to have their learning sustained by schools, and engagement with other services at home as appropriate, largely through online and telephone contact, including:
- A regular pattern of calls with pupils.
- Additional support from educational psychology services, and the use of apps to invite contact and help.
- Tracking and monitoring engagement of pupils through on-line activity, and following up children who haven't been on-line, including with calls and supplies of phones and lap tops.
- Social workers linked to schools.
37. Many services and most support is now being delivered to children and families through telephone and online approaches. This includes learning, advice and information, practical assistance, emotional support, access to social workers and support staff, and involvement in planning meetings and children's hearings. Even in many households with broadband and personal devices, some family members find it difficult to access these. Thousands of households are dependent on 'pay as you go' internet, and thousands more have no internet access.
38. As a number of children's sector leaders stated in a joint letter of 16 April to the Deputy First Minister, "the current situation is leading to increased stress and anxiety for parents and carers and their families, which is being compounded by limited social connections…. For these families, technology is often a lifeline. It would allow them to access the support of family support workers, social work and other services - and in turn allow those services to connect alongside families to see how they are doing and to flag any concerns around child protection."
39. Authorities report significant ongoing pressure on some services due to the impact of the lockdown, including on staffing, and the necessary new ways of working with children and young people. Residential care (including secure care), kinship care and fostering services have faced particular challenges, and there continue to be issues managing new placements into residential and foster care, due to worries around increased risk of transmission of the virus to the existing household group when it changes to accommodate a child. While these services have risen to the occasion, they are often described as fragile, and there are concerns about capacity as the pandemic continues.
40. There are also concerns about how some families will cope as the pandemic continues. Children 1st indicate that their staff perceive a shift in mood amongst the families they are working with, with many parents saying they are finding it difficult to continue to keep children stimulated at home. Accordingly, the organisation is increasing the number of home visits by staff.
41. The Third Sector Interfaces in local partnerships continue to highlight effective work by local organisations, including in partnership with other agencies, and a number of examples are included in Annexe A.
42. There has also been an enormous and rapid growth in community-based activity across the country, with new groups emerging around tenement close, street and housing schemes, as well as enhanced activity by many existing organisations. In Edinburgh for example, it is estimated that the number of active community groups has more than doubled.