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The lates child welfare items that should be right on your radar:

Our care, our say report published

A report which gathered the views of 163 care experienced people has been published today.

The report, which was produced by the Our Care Our Say group, asked people who had experienced the children’s care system how care experienced people could contribute to the government’s Children’s Social Care Review (the Care Review), and what concerns they had about the Care Review.

There are at least 80,000 children in care in England and Wales, and more than 400,000 people with experience of children’s social care nationally.

The report does not offer anything new – how could any report do so today, when everything has been said many times over at this point – but its presence represents a more formal amplification of the Voice of the Child as it coincides with the government’s launch of its own Care Review.

We hope the Care Review’s lead Josh MacAllister, will take the time to read this report.

You can access the report and connected documents below:

Council bans children in care from seeing parents who refuse to wear full PPE

A council has told parents with children in care they will be stopped from seeing their children at contact centres during the pandemic if they refuse to wear full personal protective equipment ( PPE ).

Cumbria County Council (CCC) has issued a form which makes it compulsory for parents to wear a visor and/ or mask, apron and gloves during visits at a contact centre in Cumbria. The councils says parents who refuse to sign the form and wear full PPE can be blocked from seeing their children.

The form, which this site has seen, also bans parents from kissing their children, and only allows parents and family members to offer ‘basic care’ during visits.

The form says, “Use of PPE is compulsory for all contacts going ahead and not optional.  During your time with your child, you will be able to deliver basic care including holding, feeding and playing.  However, there is a strict NO KISSING policy,” and adds, “If you don’t keep to the Contact Agreement then your contact may be suspended until further discussions with the Social Worker.”

The contact centre already uses a robust screening process which checks all visitors for COVID before they enter the building.

The council has defended its position in emails saying it has a duty of care towards staff, parents and children, and concludes that PPE is the only option available to ensure contact continues at the centre. The council goes on to say the measures are necessary as the new Covid strain in England heightens the risk of infection.

The decision to enforce the wearing of full PPE, which may not be legal, has left parents feeling deeply distressed and concerned that their children, who are already struggling with the lockdown regulations, may suffer irreparable harm.

A parent using the contact centre said, “I am concerned that my child seeing me in full PPE will be frightening. The staff look like surgeons: the children can only see their eyes as the mask covers the bottom half of their face and the visor the top. The contact centre shut down in March 2020 for 3 months and the council did not put in place phone calls or video calls for 2 months which was deeply upsetting for my child. I feel these new policies will further damage looked after children in this lockdown. A very young child will not understand and may even see their parent as some kind of danger.”

“There are no government guidelines or laws that say I have to wear full PPE to see my child. Even teachers and nursery staff don’t have to wear full PPE. This is a hostile, threatening agreement,” the parent added.

Childcare guidance issued in Scotland says PPE must be considered very carefully in the context of children, who need to see visual cues in order to develop and learn language. The December update says, “The use of face coverings could have an impact for children with additional support needs (which includes any level of hearing loss). These impacts should be carefully considered as communication for these learners relies on the ability to see a person’s face clearly. This is also important for children who are acquiring English and who rely on visual cues to enable them to be included in learning.”

Experts say PPE is problematic for children in care. Speaking to Researching Reform last year, Elizabeth Cooper, a deputy CEO of the the Independent Children’s Homes Association (ICHA) said that although Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) could provide a barrier to infection in care homes, it posed several problems:

“Children need physical contact and affection. Looked after children have as great, if not more of a need for this to help them heal. They already often feel alienated and ‘different’ and adding a physical barrier to this contact compounds this.”

Mark Jenkinson MP has contacted CCC and the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) to ask for a review into the local authority’s policy. 

Government debates the quality of free school meals and access to education during lockdown

A debate in the House of Commons today will look at the quality of free school meals and access to online education during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The debate follows several high profile scandals stemming from the government’s decisions about free school meals and access to education.

The government initially voted not to allow the free school meals scheme to continue during lockdown, but massive public pressure and a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford to reinstate the support to families below the poverty line, forced the government to U-turn on the policy.

The government then decided to contract a company which provided meals so poor, images of the food parcels were shared on social media and widely condemned around the world. That incident led to the government having to review the food packages being offered.

Schools around the country were initially kept open during the pandemic in a bid not to disrupt children’s education, but a growing understanding about children’s roles in spreading the virus, and most importantly the realisation that children could also suffer adverse and life-threatening symptoms once infected, forced the government to change its guidance.

This led to children being asked to stay at home, with an exception made for children of key workers, a decision which remains of concern to this day as infections continue to rise in school venues.

As part of the stay at home initiative, the government promised to ensure that every child had a computer and access to the internet, so they could learn at home. The roll out, though, has been slow, and many children are still without computers and WiFi access prompting concern that a generation of children could be ‘left behind’.

Available data suggests that around 702,200 devices were delivered or dispatched since the start of the scheme in May. Of these devices, around 139,800 were delivered or dispatched since 4 January 2021.

Ahead of the debate, the very brilliant House of Commons library has produced an incredibly helpful information pack, which can be accessed here.

For an explanation of Opposition Days, and how they work, this Parliament web page offers a good breakdown of the process.

Today’s debate is likely to take place in the evening, though the timing for Opposition Day Debates can vary and change with little to no notice. Proceedings in the Commons start today at 2.30pm. The debate itself will take place after Oral Questions, Ministerial Statements and an Opposition Day Debate on Universal Credit.

The debate can be watched on Parliament TV.

Many thanks to the House of Commons Library for the schedule and link to the TV channel, which they kindly shared with us on Twitter.

Image by @RoadsideMum

Get involved in the Children’s Social Care Review

As we mentioned yesterday, the government’s review of the children’s care system is now up and running, and they’re going to need the help of families and children with lived experience of the system to get this review right.

Links to do just that have now been provided, so we’re adding these here:

In the call for advice section there is an interesting question which review head Josh MacAlister asks about what you think should be the top issues the review should explore.

This was Researching Reform’s Response:

You can access the terms of reference for the review here, as well.

Please share this with whoever you think might be interested in getting involved.

Major review into children’s social care launched

A long awaited review into children’s social care promised by the Conservatives in their election manifesto has been launched today.

The Department for Education said the review would aim to “radically reform the system” and ensure that families in need of help would be able to access meaningful support. It also said children’s voices would be placed at the heart of the review.

The review will be led by Josh MacAlister, the founder of Frontline, a social work recruitment company.

Frontline was the only organisation selected by the government in 2019 to spearhead a recruitment drive for children’s social workers, and was awarded £45 million to train up 900 social workers by 2021. This site could not find any information about whether the recruitment drive had been successful.

The charity’s patrons include Labour MP Lord Adonis, and former Head of the Downing Street Policy Unit Camilla Cavendish. The grant was awarded after Frontline produced its own research suggesting that 44% of adults aged 18 – 34 were considering a change of career in 2019. The research, which took place before the Covid-19 pandemic, also claimed that a quarter of millennials would prioritise purpose over pay.

MacAlister will hold a ‘Call for Advice’ in a virtual launch taking place this afternoon, to help inform the review and invite applications for an ‘Experts by Experience’ group to advise him on how to include the voices of people with a ‘lived experience’ of the children’s social care system. Links provided on his Twitter page to engage in the review were not working at the time of publication.

The Department for Education’s press release says the review “will reshape how children interact with the care system, looking at the process from referral through to becoming looked after. It will address major challenges such as the increase in numbers of looked after children, the inconsistencies in children’s social care practice, outcomes across the country, and the failure of the system to provide enough stable homes for children.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said, “It is part of the golden thread that runs through everything we are doing to level up society, especially for those who are too often forgotten or marginalised. It is going to help us raise the bar for these vulnerable children, it’s going to help us improve their life prospects and most importantly, it’s going to help give them the chance to achieve their potential and not be held back from the futures they deserve.”

The review will focus on the following themes and questions:

  1. Support: what support is needed to meet the needs of children who are referred to or involved with social care, in order to improve outcomes and make a long-term positive difference to individuals and to society?
  2. Strengthening families: what can be done so that children are supported to stay safely and thrive with their families, to ensure the exceptional powers that are granted to the state to support and intervene in families are consistently used responsibly, balancing the need to protect children with the right to family life, avoiding the need to enter care?
  3. Safety: what can be done so that children who need to be in care get there quickly, and to ensure those children feel safe and are not at risk of significant harm?
  4. Care: what is needed for children to have a positive experience of care that prioritises stability, providing an alternative long-term family for children who need it and support for others to return home safely?
  5. Delivery: what are the key enablers to implement the review and raise standards across England, such as a strong, stable and resilient workforce, system leadership and partnerships, and what is needed so that this change can be delivered?
  6. Sustainability: what is the most sustainable and cost-effective way of delivering services, including high-cost services, who is best placed to deliver them, and how could this be improved so that they are fit for the future?
  7. Accountability: what accountability arrangements are necessary to ensure that the state can act appropriately, balancing the need to protect and promote the welfare of children with the importance of parental responsibility, and what is needed to ensure proper oversight of how local areas discharge those responsibilities consistently?

Useful links:

Many thanks to Ed Nixon for alerting us to the launch.

In The News

The latest child welfare items that should be right on your radar: