Agenda item

Safeguarding Children and Young People in the Covid-19 Pandemic

To receive an update on Safeguarding Children and Young People in the Covid-19 Pandemic

Minutes:

The Assistant Director Safeguarding and Children’s Services reported that since September 2020 services had largely returned to normal but underpinned by risk assessments to keep children, families and staff safe and prevent transmission of Covid. The staff group had worked with incredible commitment and dedication and had maintained on the whole, high standards of practice and performance.

 

 Children’s Homes had continued to offer warmth, care and support to children in care. They had to contend with using PPE and additional restrictions whilst at the same time supporting children and young people experiencing the pandemic. The teams have been able to cover the gaps where staff members were unable to continue in their role due to shielding or specific vulnerabilities, with other staff from across the service identified to assist. 

 

 Due to the additional health complexities the residential short break service was reduced to keep children safe. Instead of offering short breaks to 5 children a night, the service was offered to 2 children a night and then on a risk assessed basis around need and complexity. However, by April 2021, the offer of overnight short breaks was to all children accessing the services. The service has been valued highly by families especially as some of the children were not in school.

 

The additional vulnerabilities of Care Leavers was recognised, particularly around isolation and so support was increased over the last year.  This was not only in terms of visits and contact but also practical support such as food, toiletries, and activities.  Care Leavers have been disproportionately impacted in terms of employment. Many Care leavers found employment in the retail and services sectors, often this work was casual in nature and as such their employment ended without protection. There was a lot of work to do to try and address the number of young people not in education, employment and training (NEET) in the care experienced population and the Service was working with colleagues in adult learning to finalise plans.  

 

The New Belongings survey was completed during lockdown and the results outlined 10 ‘Bright Spots’ of practice (good practice) and a number of areas to focus on: -

·         Having a good friend

·         Having a trusted person

·         Coping financially

·         Experience anxiety

·         Happy with appearance 

 

Young people have been involved in the development of an action plan and delivery of the action plan has been adopted as one of the priorities for the Corporate Parenting Forum.

 

The Assistant Director Safeguarding and Children’s Services reported that it had been a challenging time for the Fostering community, but they had been amazing in their support to children in their care. As reported in September 2020, it remained the case that no Foster

Carers had decided to end their care of children as a result of the pandemic. They have

 continued to offer placements to children even when at times of crisis, there may have been worries about infection risks and this was evidence of the absolute commitment of Foster Carers to children in care. Two valued Foster Carers have been lost to Covid and this has caused great sadness across the community.

 

Fostering Fortnight has just been celebrated and all Foster Carers have been thanked for their incredible work with a card and handmade candle.

The Fostering Team have provided high levels of support to both mainstream carers and connected carers and received positive feedback in a recent Fostering Survey. 

 

In reply to a question regarding feedback in the recent Survey from Foster Carers who were not so satisfied, it was confirmed that virtual training did not suit some Foster Carers and others missed the face to face peer support from coffee mornings and soft play training events. 

 

In April 2021 the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) returned to the office on a rota basis. The MASH is critical to decision making for children and young people within the Borough and while the service has worked well remotely, it was recognised that the quality of the discussion, information sharing and decision making across the partners was enhanced by face to face working.

 

 At the end of March 2021, there has been an increase in referrals compared to 2019/2020.

The rate of referrals per 10,000 at the end of 2020/2021 was 404.3, higher than the March 2020 figure of 378.7. The England rate for 19/20 was 534, and Statistical Neighbours, 603.

 

Given the nature of the work, direct face-to-face work with children, young people, parents and carers is core to Social Work and Early Help practice in North Tyneside. As reported in September 2020, the pandemic has, by necessity, required new ways of working.

Practitioners responded quickly to the changing environment and have been incredibly

creative and innovative when restrictions have been in place. While the Service in the

main is face to face, a blended approach with virtual contact and virtual meetings

supports face to face work.

 

The performance data for 2020/2021 compared to the previous year, has shown the following: -

 

·         A 24.2% increase in early help plans.

·         An increase of almost 200 children being supported by the statutory social work teams.

·         An increase of 24.7% in children on child protection plans.

·         Stability in children in care numbers.

·         At the end of March 2021, 98.2% of children who were subject to a child protection

plan had been visited within timescales. (167out of 170children).

·         90% of Children in Care reviews held within timescales.

 

Members considered if the increase in children on child protection plans was a result of the pandemic and it was noted that plans had been stable over the last 4-5 years but since November 2020 there had been an increase in children with complex circumstances due to the pandemic. 

 

The Ready for School nursery at the Riverside Centre has been operational throughout the pandemic providing childcare for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. 

In June 2021 there was an outbreak of Covid and the Nursery was closed and staff

immediately moved to a virtual outreach support offer so that families were all receiving

support.

 

The safe and appropriate delivery of family time has been a particular challenge.

Children in Care have a legal right, save in exceptional circumstances, to family time with their parents and siblings. Family time inevitably means bringing together multiple households and a face-to-face family time offer, has been maintained subject to robust risk assessments, where possible.

 

The Youth Justice Service has continued to deliver services to young people and families

throughout the pandemic both face to face and virtual and in April 2021 had an HMIP inspection of the Youth Offending service under Covid restrictions.  The report is due for publication in the week commencing 26 July 2021. 

 

North Tyneside Children’s Services are a Partner in Practice with the Department for Education.

Through this arrangement, the Service were approached to do some further study and analysis around lessons learnt from working during the pandemic, that could be shared and used across the sector.  In partnership with Professor Eileen Munro, Professor Andrew Turnell and Marie Devine, the Service have worked with three other local authorities to explore: -

 

What helps and hinders practitioners build safety through naturally connected

networks during a pandemic when professional contact is limited?

 

Under the conditions of COVID-19, direct professional involvement with families and

children in statutory social care services has been significantly reduced.  This led to

local authorities having to think about how they can work with, and support, children,

young people and their families in different ways.

 

The study was small in size and consequently the findings are tentative but do support the

hypothesis that the use of networks makes a worthwhile contribution to improving children’s safety and wellbeing. Alongside the study, an Executive summary from a local authority perspective around the learning has been published and there are a series of events and tools that the Service will produce to share across the sector to disseminate the learning.

 

The pandemic has brought with it an increase in demand for Children’s services and an

increase in the complexity of issues. This is putting pressure on the service and in particular on the staff teams.  The Service are increasing resources to try and met this demand, but the recruitment market is challenging at this time.

 

To support staff, weekly communication and regular sessions with the Assistant Director and a range of workshops on trauma, resilience and self-care have been introduced.  These have all been welcomed and appreciated by the teams and across the Service they continue to feedback that they have good access to support and supervision and that managers are visible and accessible.

 

On 28June 2021, the Safe and Supported social work teams returned to the office

as it was recognised that learning, especially for newly qualified staff has been impacted

by not being alongside their more experienced colleagues, and this has been a key driver for returning to some office working. Other teams will follow dependant on available office space and social distancing. 

 

The Children’s Centres will also open in time for the summer holidays so that a range of

activities to support children and families can be delivered during the summer break.

 

In reply to a question it was confirmed that where the Service had the staff, families

with children with special needs were supported in their homes.

 

A Member asked if the Service was at full strength and it was confirmed that with the exception of Family time, the Service had largely returned to the full-service offer and statutory visits were all face to face.

 

Members commended staff for all the work undertaken during the pandemic in maintaining safe services.  

 

The Chair thanked the Assistant Director Safeguarding and Children’s Services for the informative report and for attendance at the meeting.

 

 

 

 

 

Supporting documents: