This simple gesture of gratitude quickly illustrated the significant impact these eight weeks have had on our children – the anxiety about what was happening and why, the fear about the health of her parents every time they left the house, the loss of contact with their friends and, of course, the lack of direct teaching at school.
This girl, one of four children, living in a flat in inner London, has been helped by her parents to reframe the fear, anxiety and loss as a period for family bonding and time together. And whilst this little girl ends her story with a simple philosophical reflection of positive family time, for many this won’t be the case. Her story is a reminder that lots of children experiencing anxiety, fear and loss will not have the support system to manage it and the impact on their emotional, social and behavioural wellbeing will be considerable.
So, across Bi-Borough children’s services, we are asking children to tell us their stories – our primary school children, our children in need, our looked-after children and our care leavers. We will use these stories to give our children a much-needed voice at a time when they have essentially been invisible – and of course this will give us a good insight into the support they will need as they start a phased re-joining of society through nurseries, schools, sports clubs and more.
We continue to encourage more children to come into schools and are publicising their innovative activities to encourage more parents to feel confident that children can be kept safe in these settings.
We are focusing attention on the young people who will finish school this summer and who, pre-coronavirus, were thinking they would leave the education system for employment. We are developing a summer scheme to inspire our young people with the opportunities that are available locally that might direct them to a different course.
Our local politicians are willingly using their networks to ensure we make best use of our time with this captive audience right now – steering them away from anti-social behaviours and gangs and towards more innovative and entrepreneurial initiatives. Prior to Coronavirus we had established Makers Enterprise, a social enterprise for young people in care and care leavers to make, package, market and sell high-end chocolates. This has now been extended to a community cookbook which is already tempting council staff with taster recipes.
Now that children’s services have finally engaged with the digital revolution and realised its potential to complement the way we work with children, young people and their families, there must be an opportunity to rethink the way we work. We mustn’t let this period pass as an offer from the real world to the digital world and back again; rather we can use our learning to be radical; to rethink our shared purpose, realign our priorities and create a rhythm for continuous learning and improvement.
Sarah Newman is executive director of Bi-Borough children’s services