Labour calls for clarity on support for most vulnerable children during lockdown

Isabella McRae
Monday, January 11, 2021

Shadow children and early years minister Tulip Siddiq has called for clarity over measures to protect the most vulnerable children from having their lives “significantly disrupted” during the third national lockdown.

Tulip Siddiq has written to Vicky Ford expressing concern for vulnerable children. Picture: Parliament UK
Tulip Siddiq has written to Vicky Ford expressing concern for vulnerable children. Picture: Parliament UK

In a letter to children’s minister, Vicky Ford, Labour MP Siddiq called for clarity and reassurance from the Department of Education over issues affecting children in care and those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). 

She also raised concerns over children at risk of abuse, neglect and domestic violence due to school closures and reduced access to support services provided by local authorities and youth organisations. 

The MP for Hampstead and Kilburn asked: “What specific initiatives will the government implement to reach out to children whose problems are hidden during lockdown? And will there be additional support for child protection, mental health and other support services?” 

According to Siddiq, just five per cent of vulnerable children were attending school in April. She said that the government must put a plan in place to safeguard children during the latest national lockdown so that problems usually identified by teachers and support staff do not go unnoticed. 

“School closures and potential barriers to providing social care will significantly disrupt the lives of children in care and young carers,” she said. “I would be grateful if you could set out your approach to supporting these groups during the lockdown.” 

The call comes after the government changed their guidance on children able to attend school after head teachers reported capacity as high as 70 per cent. 

Siddiq also asked Ford to “confirm whether foster and kinship carers will be entitled to additional support with safety or to cope with the pressures of lockdown”.  

A quarter of kinship carers have already faced worsening financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic, according to a survey by charity Family Rights Group carried out following the first national lockdown. 

It found that increased spending on food, utility bills and other essential items were placing financial pressures on carers. 

Many kinship carers said that they were worried about the impact of lockdown on children’s development, behaviour and mental health. 

Siddiq also raised concerns about the support available for children with SEND. 

She said: “Much educational provision in the first lockdown was not appropriately targeted to the needs of children with SEND and families felt abandoned by your government. Have lessons been learnt and is there a plan to deliver accessible support at home?” 

Speaking about provisions for home learning for children with SEND, she called on the government to supply accessible equipment and assistive technologies. 

The letter comes as the Department for Education faces legal action over claims new guidance on school attendance “puts low-income families at risk of contracting coronavirus”. 

DfE said in a statement: “A DfE spokesperson said: “We are acutely aware of the additional challenges faced by disadvantaged children during this crisis and have put in place measures to mitigate the impact on them. That includes buying more than one million laptops and tablets for schools and colleges to distribute, and partnering with the UK’s leading mobile network operators to provide free data to disadvantaged families which will support access to education resources. 

“We have continually assessed the impact of the national restrictions and access to education on all pupils. As part of that effort we have commissioned an independent research and assessment agency to provide a baseline assessment of catch up needs and monitor progress over the course of the year to help us target support.”

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