Keeping children safe when schools are closed
NCB supports the momentous decision to keep schools and childcare settings running only for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
We now urge the Government to provide the resources and the clarity required to limit the damage of that closure, so together we can do our utmost to protect children in these most challenging times.
Children’s social care
We support the measures proposed to protect vulnerable children - ensuring schools and childcare settings continue to provide safe, nurturing spaces for children with special educational needs and children who may already be vulnerable to abuse, neglect and other harms.
However, this classification cannot be the end of the story. The Government must act fast and collaboratively to ensure that schools can themselves identify children they believe to be vulnerable, even if they do not have a social worker or an Education, Health & Care Plan.
Keeping education settings open for these children will help to keep them safe. However, this is a time when local authorities themselves are reeling from reduced staff capacity, when social workers have reduced access to people’s homes and when the resilience of children’s services has already been severely tested through a decade of shrinking budgets.
Moreover there are many more children whose families are already facing substantial challenges and may well struggle to cope with the demands resulting from school closures. This could lead to more children and families needing support from children’s services. Without an injection of resources, these services will be overwhelmed and unable to protect the most vulnerable children or intervene to protect those who become vulnerable as a result of school closures.
Financial support for families looking after children
Closing schools at any time would create pressure on parents. This isn’t any time. This is a situation where there is widespread anxiety about the spread of a disease which is endangering lives. Where families will be cooped up together with no real social outlets – where the impact of every interaction is weighed. Where parents will have to juggle the anxiety and isolation at the same time as worrying about income or trying to keep up with employment.
The best way to meet children’s needs during this time and prevent many more children from becoming vulnerable is firstly to ensure that their parents or primary caregivers are available to attend to their needs. Parents of children in primary school and younger cannot possibly attend to their children’s needs either while working or while facing the stress of losing their income or their employment. The Government must ensure that no parent faces financial hardship as a result of caring for their child at this time.
The provision of vouchers to compensate for the loss of a free school meal is a step towards ensuring that children and families don’t go hungry as a result of school closures. However, the prospect of lost earning and employment means that much stronger action is required to ensure every family can put enough food on the table and attend to the needs of their children.
Support for families at home
In addition to the measures to protect parents from severe financial worry, we need to work together to give parents the best chance of managing this new situation.
We must ensure parents have clear information about how best to meet their children’s needs at this time – focusing especially on supporting new parents to form secure attachments with babies and young children. This includes crystal clear guidance on how to compensate for the ordinary social interaction and learning that children will miss out on in education and childcare settings.
This guidance for parents must also include clear and realistic expectations about managing children’s health and wellbeing as well as their learning at this time.
We need to create spaces where parents can share the challenges of parenting in this situation, releasing the pressure before it builds too far. If families are unable to cope in lockdown, there must be clear instruction about where they should turn for help.
With or without the additional resources they require, local authorities are going to need to count on wider systems of support from local communities and networks in order to protect our children as we endure this pandemic. We will all have to play our role in keeping children safe and preventing crises from emerging.
This is not the childhood that any of us intended for this generation of children. We must act wisely to keep them safe now. We must be resourceful to find ways of making their experience as positive as it can be in these circumstances. When we finally reach the other side of this pandemic, we must be ambitious and intentional about delivering a better childhood for these children.