Coronavirus: DfE asks social workers to visit vulnerable children with symptoms

Neil Puffett
Monday, March 23, 2020

Social workers have been asked to continue visits to vulnerable children who are in self-isolation because either they or one of their family are showing symptoms of coronavirus.

Social workers should visit children deemed most vulnerable, guidance states. Picture: Adobe Stock
Social workers should visit children deemed most vulnerable, guidance states. Picture: Adobe Stock

Guidance published by the DfE yesterday (22 March) states that children’s social care departments will be "expected to prioritise support to the most vulnerable" to cope with the pandemic.

It states vulnerable children who already have a social worker will "still be visited and/or monitored as frequently as possible".

This will include visits to see vulnerable children who are in self-isolation because either they or a family member may have caught the virus, with social workers advised to "take appropriate infection control measures".

Schools across the UK have closed to most pupils as part of efforts to tackle the outbreak – but are remaining open for children of key workers such as health workers and police.

The guidance states that there is an expectation that vulnerable children who have a social worker – either because they are in care or on a child protection plan – continue to attend school, "as long as it is safe for them to do so".

All other parents have been urged to keep their children at home unless "absolutely necessary".

"In circumstances where a parent does not want to bring their child to school, and their child is considered vulnerable, the social worker and school should explore the reasons for this, directly with the parent, and help to resolve any concerns or difficulties wherever possible," the guidance states.

"Where parents are concerned about the risk of the child contracting the virus, the school or social worker should talk through these anxieties with the parent following the advice set out by Public Health England.

"School is known as a protective factor for children receiving the support of a social worker. It is right that we prioritise support for those who will benefit the most. We are balancing this carefully with the urgent need to reduce social contact right across society to support our work to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

"Leaders of educational settings and designated safeguarding leads know who their most vulnerable children are and will have the flexibility to offer a place to those on the edges of receiving children’s social care support."

Meanwhile, foster carers who are 70 or over, or have an underlying health condition and do not want to send a child to school as they may bring back the virus, have been told to discuss the situation with their social worker.

The DfE also said it is doing "everything it can" to ensure continuity of care for vulnerable children in the event that the workforce is significantly affected by coronavirus, resulting in fewer children's social workers being available for work.

This includes allowing the emergency registration of social workers who have recently left the profession, allowing them to return to practice as part of proposed legislation to grant powers aimed at tackling the pandemic, due to be debated by MPs later today (23 March).

The DfE has also said that children’s homes will remain open and is talking to local authorities to ensure they have the necessary workforce to continue operating.

It is also working closely with local government to work out what will be most helpful to local authorities that struggle with staff absences.

"We have already paused Ofsted inspections, including to children’s services, and are working closely with the sector to provide any clarity required," the guidance states.

"The government has made £1.6bn available to local authorities to help them respond to coronavirus pressures across all the services they deliver, including their work with vulnerable children."

As part of an ongoing survey to share best practice and learning in relation to working during the epidemic, being conducted by the British Association of Social Workers, it has been suggested that some home visits or assessments could potentially be done via video calls.

It has also suggested that social workers develop a checklist of questions to service users prior to visiting to establish if they have any presenting symptoms.

Latest figures show that as of 9am yesterday (22 March), 5,683 people in the UK have tested positive for the virus, with 281 deaths.

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