How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting vulnerable children?

During this hugely challenging season, Home for Good is committed to our vision to find a home for every child who needs one. We will continue to work passionately on behalf of vulnerable children across the UK.

2020 has not been the year any of us expected. For most, it has probably been harder than we ever imagined. We have each had our daily lives uprooted one way or another but we at Home for Good are deeply conscious that the most vulnerable have been the worst affected, and significant among them are children and young people in or on the edge of care and those with care experience.

When the UK first went into lockdown in March 2020, there were a number of serious concerns within the sector. At that time there were 2.3 million vulnerable children known to social services in the UK, many of whom were now at heightened risk resulting from lockdown policies. With families under pressure and children not being seen as regularly, if at all, by teachers and social workers, there was an expectation that many thousands of children would come into care in the following months.

Almost eight months later, the impact of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions is becoming more and more apparent. We have identified three areas of particular concern.

Children are at risk.

There is continued concern for the children who were out of sight during the closure of schools, with fears that neglect or abuse hasn’t yet been detected by the professionals a child would usually be in contact with.

Many children will have returned to school after the first lockdown, but with classes and households sporadically needing to isolate, and with ever-changing local restrictions around socialising and visiting public venues like cafes or cinemas, we’re all still spending much more time at home. For most children, home is a place of safety and love, but, sadly, for some children this isn’t the case. Restrictions have increased pressure on vulnerable families, and that additional strain can create additional risk for children.

We’re also concerned for the children who are currently in need of a foster or adoptive family. In some parts of the UK referrals to children’s services have now exceeded pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, fewer people are stepping forward to become foster carers, with one fostering service seeing a dramatic 47% drop in enquiries. Children who have experienced huge loss are in need of safe, stable and loving homes, and there are not enough families in the right places with the right skills to meet the need.

Families are in need of support.

The changes and pressures of lockdown will have been, and continue to be, hugely challenging for children who have experienced trauma and loss, and all those who have additional needs. Devastatingly, many services and forms of support have been significantly altered or are no longer available at all. From therapeutic interventions to support groups, connection with trusted family members to community groups, every area of life has been impacted by the pandemic. This has left many children with disrupted support services and a lack of familiarity and routine, and many families without some of the essential building blocks they need to raise and care for their children.

"Access to great support is vital for families caring for vulnerable children because it is a significant part of building consistency and safety around their children who have experienced so much change and upheaval. Even where the change is temporary, the disruption to children who have already experienced so much has had a significant negative impact and will have a lasting legacy. There’s never been a more important time for us to wrap around families caring for vulnerable children." - Claire Hailwood, Support Manager.

There are delays in the process.

The APPG for Adoption and Permanence recently held two sessions for members to explore the impact that Covid-19 has had on adoption and permanence arrangements. Parliamentarians heard from a range of experts from the education sector, social services and the voluntary sector as well as a number of families who shared their experiences of either navigating the adoption process or life as an adoptive family during these unusual times.

Many social workers and children’s services teams have been incredibly adaptable and resilient, rapidly changing the way they work in response to the pandemic and accompanying lockdown. Unfortunately, while the experience among families has been hugely varied, our attention has been drawn to several areas of concern within the system.

We know the court system has struggled to adjust to virtual ways of working, with many Judges expressing concern about holding crucial decision-making sessions virtually, which can have such huge implications on children and birth families’ lives. As a result, many courts have amassed a significant backlog of cases, which can affect children at every stage of their journey within the care system as they wait for permanence. Further, for those moving through the adoption process during lockdown, medical checks have been challenging to obtain, resulting in a backlog of prospective adopters unable to proceed to panel. The result of both these elements is more delay in children finding the stability that they so crucially need.

"While many agencies and local authorities across the country have demonstrated incredible adaptability during this time, it is undoubtable that cracks and strains already present within the care system have only been exacerbated by Covid-19. Sadly, it is children themselves who have felt the impact of the creaking system most acutely. While some children have thrived from spending more time at home, many others have experienced delay and disruption and remain waiting for the stability they need." - Natalie Mills, Political Advocacy Manager.

All of this is why we are doing all that we can to continue inspiring and resourcing people to play their part in caring for vulnerable children. In the midst of changing rules and restrictions and frequent news updates, our commitment to working and advocating for vulnerable children and the families who care for them, and to our vision of a home for every child who needs one, remains the same.

Will you play your part for vulnerable children? You can do this by exploring fostering or adoption for yourself, or by standing with Home for Good to make a difference. Thank you.

Author:
Home for Good


Date published:
Friday 13 November 2020


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