Based on interviews with a range of council professionals delivering local early help services between March and May 2020, the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) and Action for Children research has found that school closures, social distancing and lockdown measures have seriously affected the ability of services to support children and families when they needed it most.
While the efforts of professionals and communities pulling together in an effort to protect vulnerable children and support families during the crisis was recognised, the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable children and families is expected to be ‘profound’.
It seems likely there will be increased demand from families who don’t meet the criteria for support from statutory services, but who are wrestling with new and pressing needs created by the strains of the lockdown, or the effects of previous support having been withdrawn.
Those interviewed recognised that it has become more difficult to ascertain which children have become more vulnerable. The subtler signs of abuse, neglect or domestic violence, for example, are simply much harder to spot without home visits or other
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The report outlines that it is very difficult to predict exactly what the needs of families will be post-lockdown. The lack of face-to-face contact in recent months means services may well have been less effective, despite the best efforts of councils and schools to maintain contact where possible and to innovate.
Only as the lockdown is more widely eased will the full extent of the impact of Covid-19 on children and families become apparent. This will almost certainly result in an increase in referrals to children’s social care and other specialist services.
The interviews showed councils adapted to the changes imposed by coronavirus quickly but a lot is not yet known about the effectiveness of different types of digital and virtual services, as shown by EIF’s recent report on the evidence relating to virtual and digital delivery. Indeed, most local areas felt they did not have sufficient evaluation data on the effectiveness and impact of their digital services. There were also challenges around accessibility and building relationships online.
Dr Jo Casebourne, chief executive at EIF, said: ‘We know there will be lots of calls for additional funding, including – rightly – for children’s social care and other acute services. But early intervention has a crucial role to play in providing support to a wider group of families and children wrestling with a wide range of problems in the wake of the lockdown.’
At Action for Children, Eleanor Briggs, head of policy and research said: ‘The coronavirus crisis has exploded into the lives of vulnerable families after a decade of decline in central government funding for early help services that are designed to give all children the best start in life.
‘Our findings echo widespread fears across the children’s sector that our already hollowed-out services won’t be able to cope with further demand created by the pandemic. The right thing to do for children and young people is for the government to invest in early help services now, ensuring families get help before they reach crisis point.’
Read the report here