How Bi-borough is responding to children's evolving needs during lockdown

Sarah Newman
Wednesday, May 6, 2020

I can’t recall a time in my career when I have been prouder to work for children’s services, or received such gratitude for our social workers.

This week I joined a lunchtime quiz with our care leavers and not only was I inspired by their resolve to keep themselves connected and occupied, but I also learned about their cooking classes. Given the number of young asylum seekers we have, they are creating and sharing meals from around the world, inspirationally travelling the globe through taste! I am sure there will be a cookery book in the making here!

Six weeks into lockdown and our services remain dynamic, flexing in response to the latest challenges. Having ensured that vulnerable families across Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea had digital access, we are now promoting resources that encourage face-to-face activities. Our children’s centres, family hubs and youth hubs have been busy sending out activity packs, puzzles and board games – as well as wellbeing packages for parents. We have contacted all our new mums, provided new birth packs and made sure they have a link worker through this lockdown period.

We have set up a ‘safe hub’ to provide direct contact with children, young people and their carers. These safe spaces are now being extended to our health colleagues, particularly midwives, who are concerned about the lack of contact in hospital settings. The offer that can be delivered through these hubs may continue to be expanded as and when lockdown measures start to be relaxed.

We are all thinking about the impact that this lockdown will have on our children. For those children fortunate to be attending school, they have learned a new routine of social distancing and participated in community projects to support people being shielded. But for many there will be a significant impact on their emotional and social wellbeing – as well as their learning. We are talking with the Department for Education and with schools about a recovery curriculum to really focus on these things, as well as developing virtual transition packages for children moving from nursery to primary, primary to secondary and secondary to college.

There are lots of concerns about the economy and what young people might seek, post lockdown, in terms of employment. Whilst we have embraced the digital revolution and are finally talking to young people using apps that they are familiar with, it feels like there is a real opportunity to get alongside them and influence them positively – maybe even reducing the risks of anti-social behaviours, criminalisation and exploitation. Our investment in systemic practice continues to reap benefits for practitioners, building relationships and responding to challenges using digital platforms, and we will continue to support some interactions virtually.

But there is more to do. We continue to worry about those families who we are not in contact with. Locally we have launched publicity campaigns to encourage neighbours to be interested in the wellbeing of children and for families themselves to reach out for support if they are struggling. We are keen that more of our vulnerable children go back to school and our public health colleagues are working closely with us to get the messaging right so that families feel more confident that their children can attend school safely.

Our collaboration with the regulators, government departments and colleagues across other agencies continue to be strengthened through our shared purpose to promote the wellbeing of children. Our workforce across the children’s system remains outstanding and I trust each Thursday we clap for the NHS, our teachers and our social care staff.

Sarah Newman is Bi-Borough executive director for children’s services

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