‘However challenging it is now, it won’t be nearly as challenging as when we start recovering’. The impact of Coronavirus on early help for children, young people, and families.

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This was the warning Action for Children and the Early Intervention Foundation[1] (EIF) were given by a headteacher, while carrying out research for our new report.

With coronavirus impacting almost all areas of life, we wanted to learn how the virus had affected early help[2] services. These include children’s centres, parenting support and early mental health support. We also wanted to understand the concerns of practitioners involved in delivering it. To do this, we carried out 28 interviews with heads of early help services, lead practitioners, and headteachers across England.

 

Key Findings

  • A lack of contact between children and professionals (such as teachers, NHS staff and youth workers) during lockdown has led to concerns that many vulnerable children are ‘out of sight’ and not receiving the early help support they need. This means that some children are being left to cope alone. Without support, difficulties are likely to become harder to tackle by the time they receive support. 
  • There has been a quick move from in-person to digital delivery of early help services. These new ways of working have seen some advantages: in particular, increased service capacity, and better engagement from teenagers. But there have also been disadvantages: it has made access to support more difficult for some, particularly young children and children and young people with complex needs. Also, many families do not have access to a digital device or internet connection to receive virtual support.
  • Looking to the future, there was interest in understanding, evaluating, and building on the new ways of working developed in response to coronavirus. There was also hope to maintain progress in other areas, such as improved partnership working between schools and early help services.
  • Interviewees were anxious for the future, believing that there are major challenges ahead. Practitioners expect to see a significant increase in referrals to early help, and children’s social care, once lockdown is lifted and schools and nurseries re-open.
  • The strain of lockdown will leave many children, young people, and families needing support. But at a level below the threshold for support from children’s social care. Increased investment in early help services will be necessary to meet this demand, helping children, young people, and families to recover from the effects of the pandemic.

 

Action for Children’s Recommendations

We are calling on the government to urgently respond to the crisis, and prioritise support that helps children early.

The government must:

  1. Ensure local authorities have enough resources to invest in evidence-based early help services to deal with the expected increase in demand.

Local authorities and their partners:

  1. Should evaluate and improve upon the new ways of working used during the coronavirus period to make sure progress made around information sharing and multi-agency working continues.
  2. Should evaluate the benefits and barriers identified after moving early help services to digital and how it has affected children. The findings could help improve the quality of virtual delivery of early help beyond the current crisis.

With so many children likely to need support as the country recovers from coronavirus, it is important that their needs are not forgotten. The government must act to ensure that vulnerable children can get the right support early, before problems have the chance spiral out of control.

You can read the full report to find out more

 

[1] EIF is an independent charity established in 2013 to champion and support the use of effective early intervention to improve the lives of children and young people at risk of experiencing poor outcomes.

[2] Early help refers to support for children who do not meet the threshold to receive statutory help, i.e. they are not a child in need or at risk of harm. Support is delivered by a range of organisations and could include family or parenting programmes, and help for families affected by substance misuse problems and domestic abuse.