Covid-19 recovery to pile on pressure for families and frontline support workers warn councils, early support services and schools
A new report reveals serious concerns among children’s sector professionals about the impact of coronavirus
A new report released today, Tuesday 16th June, reveals serious concerns among children’s sector professionals about the impact the coronavirus crisis has had on vulnerable children and families, and the knock-on effect for early help services.
Based on interviews with a range of professionals delivering local early help services between March and May 2020, the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) and Action for Children research found school closures, social distancing and lockdown measures have seriously affected the ability of services to support children and families at the time when they needed it most.
The research found that whilst there was an overall sense of professionals and communities pulling together in an extraordinary effort to protect vulnerable children and support families during the crisis, the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable children and families is likely to be profound.
Dr Jo Casebourne, Chief Executive at EIF, said: “This work is important to our understanding of the pressures public services face, and how the country can navigate this recovery phase. The lockdown has had a negative impact on children and families, especially those that were struggling before the coronavirus hit.
“We know there will be lots of calls for additional funding, including – rightly – for children’s social care and other acute services. But early intervention has a crucial role to play in providing support to a wider group of families and children wrestling with a wide range of problems in the wake of the lockdown.”
Eleanor Briggs, Head of Policy and Research at Action for Children, said: “The coronavirus crisis has exploded into the lives of vulnerable families after a decade of decline in central government funding for early help services that are designed to give all children the best start in life.
“Our findings echo widespread fears across the children’s sector that our already hollowed-out services won’t be able to cope with further demand created by the pandemic. The right thing to do for children and young people is for the government to invest in early help services now, ensuring families get help before they reach crisis point.”
Other key report findings
Director of Family Services, London, said:
“I worry that lockdown is storing up problems for the future: 10 years of economic disadvantage.”
- The research makes clear that there will be increased demand from families who don’t meet the criteria for support from statutory services, but who are wrestling with new and pressing needs created by the strains of the lockdown, or the effects of previous support having been withdrawn.
- Those interviewed recognised that it has become more difficult to ascertain which children have become more vulnerable. The subtler signs of abuse, neglect or domestic violence, for example, are simply much harder to spot without home visits or other face-to-face contact.
A Headteacher, South West, said:
“However challenging it is now, it won’t be nearly as challenging as when we start recovering.”
Getting to grips with the unknown
- The situation will be made more challenging by the fact it’s very difficult to predict exactly what the needs of families will be post-lockdown. The lack of face-to-face contact in recent months means services may well have been less effective; despite the best efforts of councils and schools to maintain contact where possible and to innovate.
- Only as the lockdown is more widely eased will the full extent of the impact of Covid-19 on children and families become apparent. This will almost certainly result in an increase in referrals to children’s social care and other specialist services.
Responding quickly to the changing landscape
- The interviews showed councils adapted to the changes imposed by coronavirus quickly. Digital delivery could offer a number of benefits for services and the families and children they support, including better engagement with teenagers and reducing waiting lists.
- However, there is lots that is not yet known about the effectiveness of different types of digital and virtual services, as shown by EIF’s recent report on the evidence relating to virtual and digital delivery. Indeed, most local areas felt they did not have sufficient evaluation data on the effectiveness and impact of their digital services. There were also challenges around accessibility and building relationships online.
A Children’s Centre Coordinator, North East England, said:
“We are considering continued digital delivery via Microsoft Teams, partly because it can improve engagement with parents who have anxiety/other mental health issues…meaning that retention could be improved.”
Notes to editors
- The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) is an independent charity that champions and supports the use of effective early intervention to improve the lives of children and young people at risk of experiencing negative outcomes. For more information, see: www.eif.org.uk
- About Action for Children: Action for Children protects and supports vulnerable children and young people by providing practical and emotional care and support, ensuring their voices are heard and campaigning to bring lasting improvements to their lives. With 476 services in communities across the UK, the charity helps more than 387,000 children, teenagers, parents and carers a year. actionforchildren.org.uk