How the Bi-borough is responding to Covid-19

Sarah Newman
Tuesday, April 21, 2020

When services shut down and people were asked to stay home due to Covid-19, children’s services in Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster were paused… but very quickly a new model of service delivery was developed.

Virtual children’s centres were set up, providing weekly, age-appropriate activity packs for families and running virtual parenting programmes and other useful activities; our short breaks service was redesigned to offer home care; schools were supported to work together to create a sustainable local offer for children of keyworkers and the vulnerable; we made sure that all our vulnerable children, young people and families had a laptop and access to the internet.

By week three we are in a new rhythm of service delivery. Our schools are working together to provide a local offer, both to those attending and to those staying at home. They provided a range of enrichment activities over the period that was supposed to be the Easter Holidays and our 9,000 children entitled to free school meals are receiving at the very least a weekly voucher.

We have revised our multi-agency safeguarding procedures to be relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic and we have given our staff advice about home working and emotional wellbeing. Every day I am told stories of children making bags for personal protective equipment, of care leavers taking voluntary positions to support vulnerable residents and the elderly and children subject to protection plans drawing rainbows for their social workers and clapping for them every Thursday at 8pm.

I have had numerous emails from parents to thank their worker for the individual contact and for being able to offload without judgment or expectation, while being able to explore strategies and solutions to cope with the challenges of lockdown.

I am very fortunate to be the executive director for children’s services across Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster as both councils have continued to invest and progress a systemic model of practice. This relational approach has allowed our staff to move to a new model of working seemingly seamlessly and, having now embraced modern technology, this will permanently influence practice (and for the better, according to most of the teenagers we are supporting).

I would like to tell you we have it all cracked, but clearly we don’t know what we don’t know – and there is growing anxiety across the children’s system about what is going on behind closed doors, particularly in the households we are not currently in contact with. Referrals into social care have gone down as many of the usual community services that have eyes on family wellbeing are no longer open. We are not yet seeing the rise in domestic abuse referrals and our local police are not yet reporting an increase in call outs. But we know it is going on…and we know we have to rely on children, their carers, their extended family or their neighbours reporting any worries themselves. Next week we will be launching a campaign to raise awareness of family challenges during this lockdown and to contact us if they are worried about a child.

There is more to do, but our staff are definitely up for the challenge. I have been inspired by the resolve of the children’s workforce to stay home, protect the NHS, keep safe and to continue to safeguard and promote the wellbeing of our vulnerable children and families. There is much attention and praise for our brave NHS colleagues right now, and rightly so, but this is an additional shout out to all the teachers, social workers and care staff who are also doing a grand job at this troubling time.

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

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