Vulnerable children and families affected by COVID-19 and the measures put in place to stop its spread will benefit from support offered by a coalition of charities under a new ‘See, Hear, Respond’ Department for Education programme.
The government has provided £7m of funding to launch the service which will be led by the charity Barnardo’s which will work with other charities, local authorities, schools and colleges, police forces, healthcare professionals and other vital services involved in protecting these children most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford said: “We all have a collective responsibility to protect children and young people who face challenges in their home lives, or who may not have the same support network keeping them safe outside of school or college as their peers. Many of them may be at additional risk from abuse, neglect or exploitation during these unprecedented times.”
“By working with charities directly supporting these young people on the front line, we can expand their reach to provide a much wider safety net to those in need of mental health support, counselling or protection from people trying to exploit them, as well as helping to get them safely back into education,” she added.
WillisPalmer has been warning since lockdown began that a lengthy period of social isolation would be detrimental to vulnerable children and families.
Barnardo’s will work in partnership with other national children’s charities as well as community-based organisations to provide solutions to the challenges facing children and families that may have been exacerbated by the unique circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic.
The launch of the programme comes as the DfE and Home Office prepare to open a new joint £7.6 million fund for national vulnerable children’s charities working in England and Wales on issues including child sexual abuse and child criminal exploitation. The money is targeted at those charities that have suffered financial harm as a result of the virus, helping them to stabilise and continue delivering for vulnerable children and young people.
The ‘See, Hear, Respond’ programme will focus on reaching out to children who are experiencing negative impacts on their health and wellbeing, as well as those at risk of harm.
It will focus on:
- Ensuring children and families have access to an online support package providing readily available, accessible and interactive information;
- Providing an online and telephone referral service run by trained professionals who can source further help and support from charity workers within the partnership;
- Ensuring those experiencing high levels of anxiety, trauma or other mental health issues can access online counselling or therapy;
- Providing youth interventions and face-to-face crisis support, particularly for those at risk of or experiencing various forms of exploitation, including criminal exploitation.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said: “The coronavirus pandemic has meant that vulnerable children and young people are increasingly hidden from support services. With the support of the Department for Education, Barnardo’s will bring together a coalition of national and local charities working together to identify and support those who need support at this time of crisis.
“This initiative is a vital lifeline for the thousands of children and young people as we navigate the coronavirus crisis and its aftermath, helping to improve their long-term outcomes so they can have successful futures,” he added.
The announcement builds on the government’s 'Hidden Harms Summit', held virtually on Thursday 21 May, which focused on support for people at risk from domestic abuse, wider harms and exploitation, including children.