Charities, children's social care providers and teaching unions have expressed fears over the impact of tightened measures on young people's mental health and wellbeing as well as concerns that ramped-up restrictions will affect staffing levels in children's homes.
A report sent to members of the Independent Children’s Home Association (ICHA), and seen by CYP Now, says that some providers had “concerns regarding the possible loss of staff through track and trace as they live in the ‘hotspot’ areas”.
The worries come just weeks after sector leaders warned the government’s contact tracing system could lead to small children’s homes being forced to close.
Peter Sandiford, chief executive of the ICHA, has said use of the system without exemption for staff working with vulnerable children could be “catastrophic” for small children’s homes and even the youth custody estate.
“If you look at the guidelines around track and trace there is no exemption for those working in children’s homes or places like secure units.
“The contact rules could wipe out every staff member on a single shift in a children’s home, then what happens to those children?”
However, the recent ICHA members briefing added that “most” providers had so far “not felt any effect from being relocked down”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Monday that lockdown restrictions would be tightened in Leicester due to a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases.
Schools and early years settings are set to close tomorrow (2 July) to all children except vulnerable children and those of key workers until September while all non-essential shops have closed and residents have been asked to only travel when it is essential.
The closure of schools and nurseries in the city shows that safety must be "at the heart" of September reopening plans, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) said.
“I think that’s a very interesting admission from the government that’s got very close to saying there’s no danger to reopening,” Bousted added.
However, Hancock told the BBC on Monday that education and childcare providers had been allowed to remain open for three days after non-essential businesses closed because of the “low risk” Covid-19 poses to children.
“Closing schools at 9pm the night before would have led to more confusion and bigger groups gathering around the school grounds wanting to know what was going on,” he said.
In an outbreak management plan published by Leicestershire City Council, it stated that it was liaising with schools and early years providers to manage outbreaks as a priority area.
It also said the council’s director of children’s services would be co-opted into emergency response sub-groups “as and when required”.
It highlighted that a quarter of Leicester’s population is aged under 20.
Some two-thirds of these children were from a black, Asian or minority ethic background (BAME), the council said, adding 49 per cent of its overall population were from BAME communities.
Leicester is also among the 10 per cent most deprived local authorities in the country.
Research shows that BAME communities and those with high rates of disadvantage have been hardest hit by Covid-19, suffering higher death rates and worse impacts of the financial effects of the pandemic.
“Structures are in place to support children and young people through programmes such as holiday hunger schemes,” the council document states.
Care leavers charity Leicestershire Cares said the city’s return to lockdown had “compounded the negative effect the pandemic was already having on the mental health and wellbeing of care leavers”.
Many found information provided by the government on the tightened restrictions “confusing” while some were “unaware” they had changed, the charity said.
A spokesman added: “Many care experienced young people are living alone with no family or wider support network to help them and are reliant on youth projects for support.
“Leicestershire Cares has contacted all of the young people we work with to keep them informed and continue to support them. During those conversations, as well as discussing their immediate needs, young people reported a range of concerns for the remainder of the lockdown and beyond. These included getting into work, continuing to buy essentials, having to use public transport, and overcoming the negative impact on their mental health.
“In terms of the support needed in the coming weeks, young people highlighted a need for help with mental health and wellbeing, overcoming social isolation and staying safe as restrictions ease.”