Vulnerable children who already have a social worker will continue to be visited and/or monitored as frequently as possible, government guidance has stated.
The Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on vulnerable children and young people outlines that local authorities will be expected to prioritise support to the most vulnerable, including undertaking necessary visits whilst taking appropriate infection control measures.
“Ensuring that vulnerable children remain protected is a top priority for the government. Local authorities have the key day-to-day responsibility for delivery of children’s social care. Social workers will continue to work with vulnerable children in this difficult period and should support these children to access this provision,” the guidance states.
The government is also doing everything it can to ensure continuity of care for vulnerable children in the event that the workforce is significantly affected by COVID-19. This includes, through the government’s emergency legislation, allowing the emergency registration of social workers who have recently left the profession to expedite their registration allowing them to return to practice.
Ofsted inspections of children’s services have been paused and the government has made available £1.6 billion to local authorities to help them respond to coronavirus (COVID-19) pressures across all the services they deliver, including their work with vulnerable children.
The government’s definition of vulnerable children is those who have a social worker and those children and young people up to the age of 25 with education, health and care (EHC) plans.
As school is known as a protective factor for children receiving the support of a social worker, the government is prioritising support for those who will benefit the most, while trying to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Leaders of educational settings and designated safeguarding leads know who their most vulnerable children are and will have the flexibility to offer a place to those on the edges of receiving children’s social care support, the guidance adds.
When vulnerable children supported by a social worker are forced to isolate for 14 days with their families, local authorities will be expected to prioritise support to the most vulnerable, including undertaking necessary visits whilst taking appropriate infection control measures.
All children who are looked after by the local authority are eligible for educational provision, including those in foster care.
There is an expectation that vulnerable children who have a social worker will attend school, as long as it is safe for them to do so. Where a parent does not want to bring their child to school, and their child is considered vulnerable, the social worker and school should explore the reasons for this, directly with the parent, and help to resolve any concerns or difficulties wherever possible.
Where parents are concerned about the risk of the child contracting the virus, the school or social worker should talk through these anxieties with the parent following the advice set out by Public Health England.
Providers may also want to consider how to encourage children and young people to attend provision. Social workers will remain in contact with vulnerable children and families, including remotely if needed, said the guidance.
Where children are at risk, due to the additional pressure on families with children at home in the current situation, they should be referred to children’s social care.
Local authorities and schools do not need to complete their usual day-to-day attendance processes to follow up on non-attendance. Schools should, however, ensure they have a process in place to check on the welfare of any child in need who does not attend on any day.
The government is set to introduce a separate way of keeping a record of children of key workers and vulnerable children who are able to attend school, for safeguarding purposes.
In addition, children’s homes will remain open and the government is talking to local authorities to ensure that they have the necessary workforce to remain open to deliver the vital protection they provide for vulnerable children.
Schools will be given the flexibility to provide meals or vouchers to children eligible for free school meals. The government will reimburse the costs.
Local authorities will also need to work closely with educational settings – and in particular special schools and other specialist provision – to ensure sufficient provision is available across the local area. Local authorities and educational settings may need to redeploy staff (whether teachers, support staff or other critical workers) to ensure specialist schools and colleges have sufficient workforce to operate safely, and may need to do this across the usual boundaries of maintained, academy, college or other status to ensure the right staff are in the right settings.
Alternative provision settings serve a small number of children and young people, a high proportion of whom have a social worker or EHC plans.
AP providers are already well-placed to cater for the needs of vulnerable children in a way that would be difficult to replicate elsewhere. The AP sector therefore has a key role to play in helping safeguard this group of children at this difficult time, the guidance states.
The government is asking headteachers of AP providers to work with government – through regional schools commissioners, local authorities and other key agencies on the best way to protect these vulnerable children, including by keeping AP settings open where it is feasible to do so.
“The cohort of vulnerable children in AP is small but at high risk of harm if they are not in school. The scientific advice shows that schools are safe for this small number of children to continue attending – but asking others to stay away will help to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19),” the guidance concludes.