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Services boosted to protect vulnerable Bucks children

The Children's Commissioner for England has raised concerns about at-risk kids during the lockdown.

Published by Dan Gooding at 5:44am 30th April 2020. 7-minute read.

Services boosted to protect vulnerable Bucks children

More resources have been put into protecting vulnerable children in Buckinghamshire during the crisis.

The Children's Commissioner for England raised concerns about at-risk kids across the country and Bucks say they are doing all they can.

Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England, published analysis of the extent of child vulnerability around the country, warning that much of it is hidden from sight under lockdown.

The Children's Commissioner's local area profiles of child vulnerability should help national government and councils identify how many vulnerable children there are in each local authority area, and highlight groups at heightened risk during the coronavirus emergency - such as those in overcrowded or inadequate accommodation, with fragile parents, young carers, or without internet access.

This analysis is being used to inform the Government's work to create a dashboard by which it can monitor the safety and care of vulnerable children and young people through the coronavirus crisis.

What are the risks?

Children - Hands

Hundreds of thousands of children in England are living with a cocktail of secondary risks that Covid-19 may exacerbate: lack of food in the house, homelessness, sofa-surfing or living in cramped living conditions, neglect, domestic abuse, substance abuse and parental mental health problems.

The matrix of local child need is the latest stage in a 3-year project by the Children's Commissioner to ask: if society doesn't know how many vulnerable children there are, how can it do enough to help them?

Her 2017 Vulnerability Report was the first attempt to gather all the available data into one place, and this project remains the  only comprehensive data on all risks to children in England.

The coronavirus crisis brings into sharp focus both the dangers of vulnerable children falling through gaps in services and policy, and the value of good data from the front line in order to identify where help is needed. 

Using real-time data

Real-time data has been at the heart of the Government's battle against Covid-19. The Children's Commissioner is calling for the same capabilities to be deployed to  identify children at risk as the crisis unfolds, especially those who may not be getting help as social work and other services are pared back.

The lockdown has removed most of the usual ways of identifying children at risk.

The Secretary of State for Education has written to school leaders and local authorities setting out the importance of encouraging vulnerable children into school, which is a very welcome step.

Child alone
There are real worries for children at home

However, the great majority of children with a social worker are not attending school, and other community hubs - such as doctor's surgeries, youth centres, children's centres and libraries - are closed.

Some schools are working with councils to ensure that all children known to be vulnerable are still being seen by professionals; the Children's Commissioner wants this replicated throughout the country.

In this new environment, real-time data from the police on domestic abuse call-outs, children going missing, or county lines activity; from the NHS on births and A&E attendances; from DWP on new applications for Universal Credit or UC advances for families with children; or from MHCLG on families applying for homelessness support, should be leveraged to give local services some of the missing critical intelligence they need to know which families may not be coping and need help.

In the coming weeks, the Children's Commissioner will be publishing a series of reports looking into particular groups of children acutely vulnerable under lockdown, such as babies and troubled teens.

Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England, said:

"The coronavirus emergency has put hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children in England at heightened risk. While the Government's decision to keep schools open for the most vulnerable children is welcome, sadly most of them are just not showing up. They are most likely at home, often exposed to a cocktail of secondary risks - a lack of food in the house, sofa-surfing or cramped living conditions, neglect, or experiencing acute difficulties due to parental domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health problems. Many will be caring for parents or siblings themselves in these incredibly difficult circumstances.

"I applaud the efforts of some schools and councils to ensure vulnerable children are still being visited by teachers or social workers. I'd like to see this extend throughout the country. 

"Our figures on local need lay bare the extent and nature of child vulnerability in each area, and the extraordinary pressures on some councils to try and protect them all. 

"I believe that with the right will, government - local and national - could ensure that all vulnerable children are seen and contact is maintained, harnessing if necessary the efforts of suitable volunteers, those from services which are currently closed or who are recently retired from child-facing work. 

"It is essential that children who need help are identified and given the help they need."

What are Buckinghamshire Council doing?

Buckinghamshire Council logo 2

Well the Council have boosted services, with much of their support being delivered online now.

Warren Whyte, Buckinghamshire Council's Cabinet Member for Children, said:

"We absolutely understand that the current time is very challenging for everyone, so looking after our vulnerable children is one of the council's top priorities - now more than ever.

"We know that the children and families who need our support have varied and sometimes very complex needs, with a range of different factors making up their individual circumstances.

"Our main aim wherever possible is to provide support earlier to help families overcome their problems and before reaching crisis point."

One of the key ways they are providing this prevention-focused support is through the Family Support Service, which provides more targeted, specially tailored help for families who need it, including those with more complex or multiple challenges.

Warren continued:

"We work very closely with partner agencies as part of the Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Partnership to ensure all local services work together well to protect vulnerable children. An independent chair has been established to oversee both the Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board and the Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Adults Board, to further coordinate this work.

"During the coronavirus crisis, the council has mobilised quickly to deliver even more services and resources to support children and families in need of our help as a result of the pandemic; to help make sure that we can reach all vulnerable children and young people who need our help. This is in addition to maintaining existing services.

"Just one of these is the substantial amount of online advice and information on our Buckinghamshire Family Information Service website. We of course continue to do everything that we can to protect our most vulnerable children and young people, and support families to become more self-sufficient and ultimately lead happier and healthier lives."

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