In the COVID-19 crisis public services had to rethink services for those in need. Children Services Departments introduced interim operating procedures which include video calls instead of home visits and panels and decision-making meetings virtually or replaced by decisions by senior staff. The project examined the arrangements introduced during the lockdown by working with 12-15 representatives of English local authorities and professional organisations who shared authority or agency responses.
ESRC via King’s College London Impact Acceleration Account - Slingshot Funding
Research was conducted May to July 2020. Interviews with senior managers in 15 English local authorities were followed by an adapted Delphi process to allow informants to comment on the initial findings; the report took these into account.
Broadly, referrals reduced following the introduction of lockdown, but then increased. More were associated with domestic violence and higher complexity. There was caution about when the extent of harm to children may be revealed. 80-100 per cent of social workers were working from home. Meetings and supervision were virtual and many contacts with children and families were at a distance, however it was thought unacceptable to adopt a completely virtual approach to a new referral. Guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) was said to be slow, then frequent and in volumes but not explicit about changes, requiring staff time. Few authorities were considering adopting amendments introduced via The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, Statutory Instrument 1445. Authorities estimated the additional £3.2 billion government support would cover 25-50 per cent of their spend. Lessons included ensuring sufficient PPE; revising guidance, assuming a measured rather than emergency approach. A proportion of interactions will continue virtually but should be reviewed for effectiveness; use of technology should take account of families’ access and confidence and services’ capacity to provide support.