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Information about vulnerable children and safeguarding during the coronavirus pandemic.

First published:
6 April 2020
Last updated:

Contents

How should we interpret the term “vulnerable children” for the provision in schools and registered childcare settings?

For the purpose of provision in schools, hubs and/or registered childcare settings vulnerable children include children with a social worker and children with statements of special educational needs who would most benefit from the provision.

Expectation for Children with a Social Worker:

Children with care and support or support plans, children on the child protection register, and children who are looked after should be risk-assessed to identify how they can have their needs met at home with support provided remotely or whether the provision in schools, hub and registered childcare settings could support them, and their family, over this time.  Time away from the home environment can offer children a safe place to play and talk to other children and adults and this can be a lifeline for some children and some parents who are struggling.   Children who would most benefit should be supported to access the provision by their social worker. It should not be presented to parents as a punitive measure but as helpful for the families who are struggling the most.

Expectation of Children with a Statement of SEN:

We are asking local authorities to consider the needs of all children and young people with a statement of SEN, and make a risk assessment. This should involve parents or carers and the views of the child or young person. A multi-agency approach should be used where appropriate. The assessment should focus on determining whether children and young people with a statement of SEN will be able to have their needs met at home with support provided remotely,. Local authorities and education settings should decide together who is best placed to undertake the risk assessment, noting that the duty to secure provision remains with the local authority.

Other vulnerable children:

Local authorities will also have the flexibility to offer a place to those on the edges of receiving care and support if they are known to be vulnerable by the school or family support services. This discretion should be determined on a case by case basis by the school and local authority.

Should local authorities still keep a record of vulnerable children and young people’s attendance at the school and registered childcare settings?

Yes they should. Ensuring that vulnerable children and young people are safeguarded and continue to be protected is of paramount importance.

Each setting should keep a daily record of children of key workers and vulnerable children and young people who attend their setting. This will allow for a record of attendance for safeguarding purposes and allow schools and/or registered childcare settings to provide accurate, up-to-date data to local authorities and Welsh Government on the number of children and young people attending as and when needed.

How are social workers keeping in touch with vulnerable children?

Social Services remain open and are taking new referrals as well as supporting families already receiving services. Social workers are still in contact with the children and families they support using risk assessments and RAG ratings to determine the need for physical contact and the range and type of support that is needed. Innovative ways of working have been initiated including for example seeing children at a safe distance, using WhatsApp, FaceTime, Skype and social media as well as the  telephone.

I am not currently accessing provision, but I need help or feel that my child should be eligible for provision in the Hubs?

Local authorities are well placed to identify children receiving support from a social worker or with a statement of SEN. However, local authorities will also have the flexibility to offer a place to those on the edges of receiving care and support if they are known to be vulnerable by the school or family support services.   This discretion should be determined on a case by case basis by the school and local authority.

Should you feel that you need help or should be eligible for provision you should contact your school or local authority.

How will local authorities and schools and/or registered childcare setting manage the financial impact of these changes?

What support is available for children and young people in foster care and care leavers?

We expect all children in foster care to continue to be supported to maintain contact with their birth families, and to be able to spend time with their siblings and to access advocacy. It may not be possible, or appropriate, for face-to-face contact to happen and keeping in touch will, for the most part, need to take place remotely.

The Children’s Commissioner for Wales has published a range of advice for care leavers including links to organisations offering support.

Voices from Care has developed a bespoke package of support for care leavers which has been circulated to local authorities. The support offered is intended to support emotional wellbeing by offering virtual social space. It is also providing a range of tailored advice and information and will look to adapt its service as the situation progresses.

Welsh Government has updated its guidance around the St David’s Day Fund advising that local authorities should give priority to care leavers who may be experiencing financial hardship due to income loss, difficulty with tenancy agreements, food and other basic living necessities.

Welsh Government advice to care leavers living in private rented accommodation.

The Fostering Network is reaching out to support foster carers across Wales.

The Adoption and Fostering Association (AFA) Cymru has published advice and guidance for fostering services including in relation to family contact.

What is being done to support the adoption process and adoptive parents?

The National Adoption Service has issued guidance on its service practices.

The Adoption Agencies (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 and the Adoption Agencies (Wales) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 came into force on 1st April 2020. Welsh Government has given assurance to providers that no action, whether by use of Ministerial Directions powers or otherwise, will take place in relation to any infractions of the requirements of the new Regulations between 1st April 2020 and 30th September 2020 or until normal running is resumed, whichever is the sooner, provided that these occur with good reason. 

This could mean in some circumstances that agencies will run Stage 1 and Stage 2 processes concurrently should they so wish. The requirement currently remains however that all the necessary checks including health assessments and DBS checks need to be fully completed before an adopter is approved. This could mean for example that medical assessments are left until the end of the process.

What is happening about family court decisions?

The President of the Family Division has issued guidance about the safe delivery of child arrangement orders (private law) during this period which has been circulated to local authorities.

The Courts and Tribunals Service has also issued guidance in relation to the operation of the family court.

The Courts and Tribunals Service is providing regular updates including where they are focusing their priorities and a court tracker showing which courts remain active.

The Family Rights Group is providing advice on support for families.

What is being done to ensure there are enough social workers for continuity of care for vulnerable children?

The Welsh Government is doing everything possible to ensure continuity of care for vulnerable children in the event that the workforce is significantly affected by COVID-19. This includes, through the government’s emergency legislation, allowing the emergency registration of social workers who have recently left the profession, allowing them to return to practice, as well as exploring with the sector urgently what requirements can be relaxed to free-up social workers’ time without compromising the best interests of vulnerable children.

What is being done to support young people and the workforce in residential settings?

Local authorities are working to ensure they have the necessary workforce to remain open to deliver the vital protection they provide for vulnerable children. Residential and secure children’s homes are working closely with their local authorities on continuity plans for potential staff shortages at the local level and the Welsh Government is looking at options for support to providers should it be required.

We expect all children in residential care to continue to be supported to maintain contact with their birth families and to be able to spend time with their siblings and access to advocacy. It may not be possible, or appropriate, for face-to-face contact to happen and keeping in touch will, for the most part, need to take place remotely.

What guidance is available to children’s social services, to support looked after children, care leavers and childrens safeguarding?

In response to COVID-19, Welsh Government has published operational guidance for children's social services.

What is available for young carers?

The vulnerable children definition, which includes young carers, means they can access an appropriate setting if they potentially require additional support, or a brief respite from their caring role.  Implementation and access is being decided by each local authority according to availability of provision. Parents / guardians of a young carer should contact their local school, or local authority education department directly. The preferred option should be to follow government advice and stay at home.

A young carer can access a range of online information and advice, or other forms of support.  This can be obtained from the local authority and contact details can usually be found on the local authority website.  Support may also be accessed via local or national carers’ organisations. 

Guidance for carers has been published by Carers Wales.

What will local authorities be expected to provide for learners with Statements of Special Education Need (SEN)?

We recognise that this unprecedented situation means support systems are not currently operating as they normally would.  We are encouraging a practical and flexible approach to meet individual needs and that wherever possible services are provided remotely.

What should be done about infection control in schools and/or registered childcare setting for children who have complex needs?

We appreciate that this is a very worrying time for parents and for staff working with children and young people with complex needs. It is important that decisions are made based on risk assessments - for both the learner and for the schools and/or registered childcare setting - and are informed by the latest public health and medical advice and guidance available. With support from government guidance and local partner agencies, leaders of schools and/or registered childcare settings are well-placed to make judgements about what is required in their settings, and we will support these decisions.

Are specialist FE establishments expected remain open?

Special settings should, where safe to do so, continue to care for children where possible. Special settings include specialist further education (FE) establishments who are funded to deliver education, training and in many cases, also care, to young people with severe and complex learning difficulties.

Where specialist FE establishments make the decision to close or young people are unable to attend college, what assurances can be provided by Welsh Government that their placements will remain funded for their agreed programmes of study?

To ensure young people can continue to be cared for in specialist FE establishments, now and in the future, the Welsh Government has agreed to continue funding until the end of this academic year (July 2020) for those programmes of study already agreed which are disrupted by COVID-19. This funding will be provided even where a young person is not attending due to COVID-19 and even if a specialist FE establishment temporarily closes or reduces its services, in response to the coronavirus outbreak.  A review of this arrangement will take place at the end of the current academic year.

What happens if a young person who is due to complete their agreed programme of study in July 2020 is unable to complete due to being unable to attend college because of COVID-19?

Where a young person is unable to complete their agreed programme of study, then a request for an extension to the young person’s agreed programme of study can be made. The guidance to support this is contained in Welsh Governments policy ‘Securing provision for young people with learning difficulties at specialist further education establishments and associated technical guidance documents for Careers Wales and specialist further education establishments. As stated (paragraph 82 of the policy), it is the college’s responsibility to review a young persons programme of study and if necessary submit an extension request for consideration by Welsh Government.  Requests to extend a young persons placement beyond the programmes original agreed end date will only be agreed in exceptional circumstances. Each request will be considered on a case-by-case basis. However, the length of time required must be proportionate to what remains to be completed within the young person’s agreed programme of study.  For example, we would not expect to receive a request for a one year extension, where the young person has been absent for one term.

What consideration will Welsh Government give to applications for specialist provision to be submitted after the April deadline due to implications of COVID-19?

The application round for specialist placements beginning in September is between  October and April.  Therefore the majority of activity to support Careers Wales submitting an application should be nearing completion. However, it is acknowledged that in some cases the ability of other organisations who submit information that support the section 140 assessment could be affected the impact of COVID-19.

In light of this, Welsh Government will consider the need to extend the deadline on a case by case basis. Careers Wales should contact Welsh Government to highlight individual concerns and to request an extension to the deadline. This can be done be emailing this post16aln@gov.wales.

What is being done about vulnerable children with underlying health conditions who are being advised to isolate but rely on schools for meals?

Schools should ensure pupils who receive free school meals continue to receive food during the coronavirus pandemic. Guidance for schools on free school meals has been published and includes a range of suggested options for how schools can meet these needs whilst ensuring appropriate social distancing measures are upheld.

If you have any queries about how to access free school meal provision at this time please contact your local authority directly.

For those who are not eligible for free school meals but who have been advised to isolate or struggling at this time many local authorities are offering support and parents/carers should contact their local authority or check their website. 

 

What are Further Education Colleges doing to support their learners?

Learners should contact individual student services departments for specific information but all colleges are keen to provide the best possible support to all learners in these unprecedented circumstances, including:

  • Families who receive free school meals are being supported through a range of mechanisms including payments directly into their bank accounts, vouchers and packed lunch schemes.
  • Laptops have been loaned to learners who do not have facilities at home.
  • Student support is being provided remotely via phone, email, skype etc. I2A caseworkers are checking into their allocated learners regularly who are particularly vulnerable.
  • Library service being provided on-line including “ask your librarian” telephone lines.

What is happening with junior apprenticeships?

Colleges in Wales have closed classrooms but are still delivering learning via alternate methods using online classrooms.  Junior apprentices are still required to attend online sessions and submit work where appropriate. Learning Coaches are checking in with these learners to check on their wellbeing. All Junior Apprentices in receipt of free school meals have been considered and options discussed. Detailed action plans relating to these learners have been shared with relevant stakeholders.

The delivery of some components of vocational qualifications is still being considered and advice will be shared with learners on a regular basis to keep them informed.

I am experiencing financial problems, what help is available to me?

Students who are experiencing financial difficulties may wish to contact their student hardship or welfare services at their provider.

The Student Loans Company have temporarily ceased arrears and debt collection activity to alleviate pressure on individuals and not place additional financial hardship on them at this time. Student Finance Wales have set up a dedicated page to keep students up to date with information on student finance during the COVID-19 outbreak.

I am anxious and finding things very stressful. What support is available to me?

The Welsh Government is aware that universities in Wales have carried out a range of activities aimed at supporting students’ mental health and wellbeing, supported by funding made available by the Welsh Government to HEFCW.  Such support should be extended to students who are living off-campus, as well as those in university halls of residence. Students who are experiencing anxiety and stress may wish to contact their student welfare services at their provider:

https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/student-support/

https://www.bangor.ac.uk/studentservices/

https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/study/student-life/student-support

http://www.cardiffmet.ac.uk/study/studentservices/Pages/default.aspx

https://www.swansea.ac.uk/student-services/

https://advice.southwales.ac.uk/a2z/student-services/

https://www.uwtsd.ac.uk/student-services/

https://www.glyndwr.ac.uk/en/Studentsupport/

How are youth work services supporting vulnerable young people?

Youth work services, in the maintained and the voluntary sector, traditionally support many young people from all backgrounds, abilities and aspirations, including the most vulnerable and marginalised among them, where youth work skills of engagement are particularly recognised and valued. They play a crucial role in supporting a young person’s holistic development through non-formal and informal learning in a variety of settings. In the current crisis, as most physical settings, including youth centres and projects, have closed during lockdown, voluntary and paid professional youth work staff are working in new and developing ways. This includes through online activities, 'digital youth clubs', by supporting frontline responses to COVID-19 and staffing school and hub settings. They are also engaging in outreach working through digital and telephone methods to make contact with young people, respond to their concerns, questions, and requests for assistance, and refer to or broker access to other services where necessary.

In addition, the Meic helpline service has been enhanced in response to COVID-19, and provides useful tips for young people on a range of issues, through videos, resources, articles and direct support from Helpline Adviser Advocates.

To support the sectors response to the pandemic, the Interim Youth Work Board’s Digital Youth Transformation Network has become a point of national co-ordination for sharing information, resources, tools, training and guidance on digital youth work as a response to the restrictions caused by COVID-19. The Network has developed a new information sharing platform which holds valuable resources in one place, to help avoid duplication. In addition, the fortnightly Youth Work Bulletin keeps the sector updated on the latest developments.

What is the Welsh Government doing to support the youth work sector during this time?

The Welsh Government is providing over £10 million to local authorities in 2020-21 through its Youth Support Grant. This includes £3.7 million to prevent youth homelessness and £2.5 million to support mental health and well-being, as well as core funding for youth work and youth engagement and progression through local authority services and in collaboration with their partners. The grant terms and conditions have been revised to include additional flexibilities aimed at recognising and supporting youth work service responses to COVID-19. These changes are intended to preserve the youth work service infrastructure while allowing greater agility for local government and its partners, including through the redeployment of staff and strengthening of digital outreach approaches.

Alongside the Youth Support Grant, local authorities will be actively considering how they spend their Revenue Support Grant funding and other funding streams on youth service activity to support vulnerable young people.

The Welsh Government is also making available funding through the National Voluntary Youth Organisations Grant, which started on 1 April 2020 and will run for two years. National voluntary youth organisations’ agreed objectives under this grant may need to change in light of the current COVID-19 situation, Welsh Government officials will discuss with grant recipients.

The Welsh Government is also co-ordinating the publication of a fortnightly bulletin on behalf of the Interim Youth Work Board. This entails engaging with sector representatives and pulling together their key questions, and finding responses to guide and support the sector during this time. To  receive the Youth Work Bulletin sign up here.

What is being done to support young people at risk of homelessness during this time?

We expect local authorities to continue to work across services to address the needs of young people. Welsh Government are continuing to fund Youth Homelessness Coordinators in local authorities as part of the £3.7m youth homelessness allocation in the Youth Support Grant. The coordinators can provide a vital role in helping to coordinate a collective response to support young people at an early point to help prevent homelessness. The innovation fund projects continue to be funded and organisations are finding ways of still engaging and providing a service to young people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Shelter Cymru provide an independent housing advice service, funded by Welsh Government that young people can access for support. As well as the advice line there is also a webchat facility and information developed specifically for young people. Shelter Cymru are also working in partnership with Llamau to provide an out of hours service for young people. Welsh Government’s hidden homelessness campaign will continue to run on social media signposting young people to Shelter Cymru for help.

Shelter Cymru and Llamau

Advice line: 0800 495 495

Shelter Cymru: https://sheltercymru.org.uk/

Llamau: https://www.llamau.org.uk/

I have been receiving counselling through my school to help support my mental health. Will I still be able to access that service now my school has closed?

Whist schools are closed in respect of statutory education provisions the Welsh Government is working closely with counsellors to ensure sessions continue and will be provided either online or by telephone as soon as possible. Young people currently receiving counselling can expect to be contacted over the coming weeks with further details.

What support is available for children and young people who need support with their mental health?

Many people will find staying at home difficult, but there are lots of ways to help support your own mental health. Encourage young people to talk to Tell a trusted adult how they you are feeling and talk to them about ways you can all support your mental health.

Young people can call, text, or message MEIC, a free service in English and Welsh that is all about listening and helping people in Wales get access to support no matter what is needed. Their website also has information on how to exercise, which is a great way to help emotional wellbeing, as well as many other helpful articles and links.

Childline is another free service that can give you information, advice, and support including 1-2-1 counselling from trained professionals. They have written some advice especially for how to cope with feeling worried or unwell, and you can also contact them in Welsh.

There are also mobile phone apps that can help with your wellbeing, many of which are free, that you can find on the NHS apps library. CALL is another helpline which provides emotional support 24/7 and can be accessed by phone or text (0800 132 737 or text 81066).

The Children’s Commissioner for Wales has also established a coronavirus information hub for families and children to with useful tips and advice regarding the coronavirus. 

The NHS is still here to help you, even though services will be under more pressure than normal, so you should still access support through your GP if you need to. In addition, local authority counselling services, which have traditionally been delivered face-to-face in schools and the community are still available and since the pandemic started have moved support online or via telephone. Referrals can be made via your local authority website. Access to counselling providers is here.

My child is still waiting for a statement of SEN and/or I am going to the tribunal to secure the statement of SEN for my child. Will they qualify as a vulnerable child and be able to go to their school and/or registered childcare setting?

If the local authority has not yet issued a statement of special educational need (SEN) for your child,  they will not  fall within the definition of ‘vulnerable children’ for the purposes of attendance at a school and/or registered childcare setting during the COVID-19 outbreak. Therefore, unless they are considered vulnerable under other criteria they would not qualify as a ‘vulnerable child’.

If you feel that your child should be considered as vulnerable, you should contact your local authority in the first instance, so they can provide you with more information and criteria they are using in your area.

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