What does COVID-19 mean for UK child safeguarding practice?

Olivia Miller
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Vanisha Jassal, Senior Lecturer at Kent's Centre for Child Protection has commented on how COVID-19 may be affecting child safeguarding practice in the UK. She said:

‘It is firstly important to acknowledge and commend the work that all child safeguarding practitioners and volunteers are continuing to carry out, despite present COVID-19 difficulties. Social workers, health staff, education professionals, police staff, charity workers and many other public serving workers will be doing their best to ensure that children and families who require additional support still receive this.

‘Undoubtedly, child safeguarding practice will be experiencing additional pressures due to COVID-19 as workers find themselves operating in unusual and constraining environments.  The pressure relates to emotional, physical and practical challenges, both in relation to supporting children and families as well as how workers care and protect themselves and their own families as they undertake frontline safeguarding duties.

‘Having taught on an inter-professional MA in Advanced Child Protection for the last six years, I am unable to think of child safeguarding as being anything other than an inter-professional responsibility. This has been enshrined in legislation over the last few decades and explicitly legislated in the 2004 Children’s Act. A child in need (Section 17) or a child under the protection of local authority care (Section 47) is supported by a range of professionals as alluded to earlier. Currently, many of these professionals are being drawn in to manage additional duties because of the COVID-19 crisis. Some themselves are falling ill from contracting the virus or are self-isolating due to family members being symptomatic. Although the Government’s ‘emergency legislation’ will alleviate some pressures, as it calls back retired and additional workers to these professions, day to day safeguarding practice will be being impacted by factors such a child’s regular inter-agency network of support possibly not being available or accessible in its usual form.

‘Children who have an allocated social worker, were included in the group classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the UK Government in March (2020), and are those for whom schools remain open in the current COVID-19 lockdown (along with the children of key workers). Schools are a protective factor for many children and it was seen as important that those who are vulnerable, could continue attending school and seeing teachers. Schools are also a symbol of community support for families who may be struggling for a plethora of reasons. There is no statutory obligation on parents/caregivers to send the children to school and where they are not, effected children will be being supported through other means by relevant professionals. There are also likely to be some local variations as to how it is operating. This whole system therefore requires close and continuing collaboration between local authority social workers and schools and other relevant agencies.

‘The whole climate of lockdown is a reality odd to most of us and many of us will be readjusting so that we can function safely, healthily and productively on a day to day basis. Families who were already experiencing pressures, be they related to health, finance or social factors, are likely to be struggling even more now and this could very well be generating additional familial strains; some of the consequences of this may require additional responses from child safeguarding professionals. Organisations supporting professionals will be aware of these increasing pressures and some, such as BASW, the British Association of Social Workers, are keen to identify the impact of COVID-19 upon their workforce. BASW’s online survey is evidence of this and I encourage as many social workers as possible to complete it: https://www.basw.co.uk/social-work-during-coronavirus-covid-19-ongoing-survey

‘As a final note, I reiterate, child safeguarding practice will be trying its best to sustain its support for vulnerable children and families.  However, the true impact of COVID-19 upon children, families and practitioners, remains to be seen.’

Vanisha Jassal is Senior Lecturer and Acting Director of Studies for the MA in Advanced Child Protection programme at the University of Kent’s Centre for Child Protection. Vanisha has several years’ experience teaching inter-professional child protection practice and is Lead Educator on her MOOC, ‘Communicating Effectively with Vulnerable Children’.  She is also interested in investigating social and racial inequalities in child welfare and safeguarding practice. More information about Vanisha Jassal’s research can be accessed here: mysandtray.com

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