This quick guide is for practitioners working to safeguard children and families during the COVID-19 outbreak, including social workers and those working in social care settings.
As a practitioner you are facing unprecedented challenges to support and safeguard vulnerable children and families, even given the falling infection rates and initial easing of restrictions. During this time of uncertainty, it is particularly important to safeguarding children who may be at an increased risk of abuse, harm and exploitation from a range of sources. However, it is equally important to safeguard families, with parents facing significant pressures to continue to protect and promote the welfare of their children. These parents may already be struggling and so with additional pressure the likelihood of harm or significant harm may increase.
Unhealthy coping mechanisms can involve a reliance on substances that provide relief and escapism by adults and children alike. Substances alter the behaviour of parents and create a lack of safety for children and young people. It is important to understand how families are managing the stresses that they face, which are likely to be exacerbated under the current pressures – with associated worries around employment, finances and health.
Where there is an existing dependency or use of substances in the household, it is important to consider how the current context may escalate use. If a parent or individual is reliant on prescription medication, how might stretched national resources affect their capacity to stay well and abstain from using dangerous substances?
Similarly, efforts in health promotion and education with children and young people on the risks of substance abuse remains of paramount importance.
Isolation can place children at a greater risk of neglect. This is compounded by the increased economic challenges and poverty that families may be facing, and by the increased exposure of children to neglectful environments as they spend more time in the home. Even with schools open once again, children may still have reduced contact with the usual range of professionals who can identify the signs of neglect and take steps to intervene and report concerns.
Neglect may become a source of harm for children, even if not the initial reason for social care involvement. Practitioners should maintain a professional curiosity and keep a holistic view of the family and emerging risks.