The government is aware that the COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in increased pressure on the full range of organisations which provide support to children and young people, including local authorities’ children’s services and voluntary sector organisations, as well as schools, colleges and early years settings.
The department has been working closely with local authorities to assess the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, setting up dedicated Regional Education and Care Teams (REACTs), comprising of education and social care staff from the department and Ofsted. The teams work closely with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and with local authorities. The REACTs have weekly calls with directors in each region of the country and follow up with individual councils of concern as necessary.
The department also conducts the fortnightly Vulnerable Children and Young People survey, which goes out to all local authorities in England. This provides an overview of how children’s services are operating and includes information such as the number of referrals to children’s social care services, social worker contact with vulnerable children and numbers of children going into care. A report of data from Waves 1 to 8 of the survey can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/vulnerable-children-and-young-people-survey.
The government has provided an unprecedented package of support for those that support vulnerable children through both statutory and voluntary services. This support package includes £3.7 billion of additional funding to support local authorities in meeting COVID-19-related pressures, including in children’s services. This funding is un-ringfenced, recognising local authorities are best placed to decide how to meet the major COVID-19 service pressures in their local area. The support also includes the Adoption Support Fund, which has provided £8 million to help families under pressure as a result of the outbreak. It also includes the Innovation Programme, which has funded more than £12 million for 14 projects related to areas including domestic violence and supporting teenagers at risk of exploitation.
Additionally, this support package includes funding of more than £7 million to Barnardo’s for the See, Hear, Respond service, which offers targeted help to vulnerable children, young people and their families affected by COVID-19 and the measures put in place to stop its spread. It also includes a £7.6 million joint fund between the department and the Home Office for national children’s charities operating in England and Wales that offer services to safeguard vulnerable children and that have financially suffered due to the impact of COVID-19. We have also provided funding to other charities working with vulnerable children, including Grandparents Plus, Family Rights Group, FosterTalk, the Care Leavers Association, Become, Drive Forward Foundation and Adoption UK.
This funding is in addition to the joint investment from the department and the Home Office in the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s helpline of £1.6 million and additional £310,000 to enhance Childline. In addition, approximately £10 million has already been committed to the Family Fund, helping families with children that have complex needs and disabilities through grants for equipment that makes their lives easier while implementing social distancing measures, including computers, specialist equipment and educational toys.
We know children and young people’s wellbeing and mental health has been affected in various ways during the last 6 months. We have advised schools and colleges to place emphasis on pastoral and wellbeing support, provided new resources on mental health as part of the relationships, health and sex education curriculum and hosted national webinars for education settings and local partners. The government is investing £8 million to launch the new Wellbeing for Education Return programme, which will train experts in local authorities to provide schools and further education providers all over England with the knowledge and practical skills they need to support teachers, students and parents to help improve how they respond to the emotional impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The government is making available a catch-up package worth £1 billion, including a catch-up premium worth a total of £650 million to support schools to make up for lost teaching time. Alongside the universal catch-up premium, we are launching a £350 million National Tutoring Programme to provide additional, targeted support for those children and young people who need the most help.
We have also made a wide-ranging package of support available to the early years sector. Many settings have used the furlough scheme and we have also continued to pay local authorities by bulk-buying childcare places under our entitlements for free hours for 2, 3 and 4 year olds. We will continue to pay local authorities for those hours this autumn term even if fewer children are attending settings. We have asked local authorities to pass this funding on in full.
Our latest guidance on supporting vulnerable children and young people during the COVID-19 outbreak is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-childrens-social-care-services.