We believe that a lot of abuse is currently being hidden. We believe that post lockdown, it will emerge than many children have been abused. Our evidence for this is that whilst child protection cases coming through local authorities have dropped, calls to the NSPCC are up 20%, calls to a national domestic abuse helpline rose by 49% and killings doubled weeks after lockdown. Dealing with the immediate and long term repercussions represents a massive challenge for our sector.
We believe that the parents we work with will be worse off. Social disadvantage will be exacerbated and the Sutton Trust has highlighted that closing schools for Covid-19 may do lifelong harm and widen inequality.
Covid-19 has urgently increased need for our community services in Lambeth and forced us to change the way we deliver all our services. We’ve already incurred considerable costs. There is potential loss of business which we cannot mitigate. However, we have also identified new opportunities, different ways of working and a huge amount of goodwill and flexibility amongst colleagues. In the longer term, we anticipate increased need for our services and a more difficult economic climate.
Residential parents are already in a very stressful situation, being assessed as parents. They arrive with complex issues. Uncertainty magnifies distress and the centre can feel at once a haven and a trap. We have made substantial changes to the way we work, extending shifts to limit staff travel, and reopening a centre for staff to use instead of travelling home and as a potential quarantine headquarters. To ensure children’s safety, we have had to install video cameras in case we need to monitor remotely.
The bedrock of our community work with young families in Lambeth is 121 highly bespoke support so the loss of face to face contact has had a huge impact and involves “so much learning” (practitioner) but also real opportunities to “think on your feet, be creative”. Colleagues report that parents are frightened, angry and confused. Some are suicidal. Many live precariously, in poor accommodation so being trapped inside is a nightmare. For single parents with babies or very young children, shopping is very difficult. These families rarely have wifi and rely on their phone for data, an additional expense. This crisis has tested their resilience to its limits. Incidence of domestic violence and child protection have both soared.
The team are supporting through very lengthy phone calls, WhatsApp and Zoom groups. 121 cooking sessions with a ‘what’s in my cupboard?’ basis are popular and there are extended conversations whilst prepping food. However, data poverty is a problem for many parents.
Immediate and longer term challenges
The immediate challenge for our residential service is how to introduce new families safely. We want to make testing mandatory for the sector and are lobbying Ofsted on this (so far with no success).
The main longer term challenge is the uncertainly. We can model scenarios but it is impossible to plan when it is so unclear what will happen next. This will also impact on recruitment.
At the same time, we know there will ultimately be less money to support disadvantaged families – despite the emergency funding being set up. “Much of the funding isn't new. It's existing funding that's being ‘repurposed’. That's totally understandable, but it will not now be available for its original purposes … There is a huge crisis to manage, but we also need to begin preparing for what's coming.” (Ian McLintock, Charity Excellence Framework)