Social workers will work alongside teachers to help identify children at risk of neglect and abuse as children return to school following lockdown restrictions, the government has announced.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has unveiled £6.5m funding to involve more than 150 schools in a project that will place social workers in schools to work with teaching staff.
Gavin Williamson said: “The stark reality is that too many children are growing up at risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation. These are the most vulnerable in society, and the ones that most need our help. For these children, schools offer a safe space to get support, develop resilience and fulfill their potential."
“That is why, as schools begin opening more widely and we look to the future, we must take all the steps we can to protect these children. By bringing social workers into schools we can spot the warning signs more quickly,” he added.
WillisPalmer has remained concerned about vulnerable children during lockdown restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While schools have remained open to the children of key workers whose jobs are in the social work, NHS, care sector, Prison Service, food delivery and distribution as well as vulnerable children in care or allocated a social worker. However, Department for Education statistics revealed that just 5% of vulnerable children were in school.
The government wants to re-open primary schools on a phased basis, potentially starting with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 from 1 June although this will be different from one school to another.
Gavin Williamson has announced nearly £10 million for projects aimed at boosting the educational outcomes of vulnerable children, and to keep them safe from harm. This includes £6.5 million to enable social workers to work in more than 150 schools alongside teaching staff given that schools are the second largest source of referrals to children’s services.
Early evidence from pilot studies shows placing social workers in schools enables them to work with teaching professionals to identify children in need of support.
Reports show that domestic abuse incidents have been on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic, with some children also experiencing exposure to drug and alcohol misuse or at risk from online harms.
The new measures will help schools to identify any children that are considered more at risk, and as more return to school. The funding follows three studies, undertaken by the What Works Centre for Social Care, in 2019/20 where social workers were placed in schools in Lambeth, Southampton and Stockport, and it was shown that social care support offered through schools could help keep children safe.
Chief Social Worker for Children Isabelle Trowler said: “I am delighted to see further investment in this very promising area of practice. Keeping social workers close to children, their families and alongside their communities will help build those essential relationships, which we know to be the bedrock of effective family support and child protection.”
The measures add to those taken by the Department for Education to safeguard children during the coronavirus outbreak, including providing free IT devices to children with a social worker so they can continue to stay in touch with children’s services, and £12 million in funding for programmes aimed at supporting vulnerable children, including those at risk of witnessing domestic abuse. More than £3.2 billion has also been made available for local authorities, helping them meet additional demands including within children’s social care services.