Community health

Covid-19: An unprecedented time for children, young people and families

By - Integrated Care Journal
Covid-19: An unprecedented time for children, young people and families

As I reflect on the last 8 weeks at Barnardo’s, our communications to staff and leadership updates from our CEO, Javed Khan, I realise just how quickly we have adapted.

In early March 2020, we made a move to reduce travel and large meetings. By mid-March, the Prime Minister was closing schools, shops and social events. Temporary hospitals were being built and it was clear we had a pandemic.

These are unprecedented times for us all. Coronavirus continues to claim hundreds of lives a day in the UK and the cost to society and the economy is already considerable.

This is something none of us could have imagined just a few weeks ago. Across social care, health and the charity sector, we have witnessed humbling accounts of togetherness, hope and support to rise to the challenge. Communities of volunteers have rallied to help those in need of assistance and the country comes together for a national heart-warming display of affection as we clap for front line workers at 8pm every Thursday.


Experiencing the impact across society 

The impact of the crisis on children, young people and families is wide-ranging and the experience different for each of us as individuals.

We won’t know for some time the true extent of trauma being experienced but we are seeing early signs of how lockdown and isolation is impacting on the most vulnerable in our society.

At Barnardo's we have proactively surveyed all of our frontline staff to better understand how Covid-19 is impacting on the children and families we support. Of the responses, 65 per cent of practitioners are supporting children or parents who are reporting an increase in mental health issues, particularly anxiety and stress and concerns about ‘reduced social contact’. Meanwhile, 75 per cent of those reporting issues around poverty said that they were supporting young people or families who had experienced reduced income due to job losses/reduced hours.

Our 7,918 employees and 23,842 volunteers continue to find innovative ways to ensure we are reaching out to children and families.

Key workers have continued providing essential services, with some staff stepping up for re-deployment where they have skills to do so. We have had to make the difficult decision to furlough some teams and colleagues to support our charity’s commitment to spending resources wisely. Most of the team are working from home, juggling family commitments with work, many making their own sacrifices to support our work.


Innovating a response 

We have strategically responded to the Covid-19 crisis by capturing and enabling accelerated innovation.

We have set up a focussed Innovation Programme Group with four project workstreams supporting: reshaping of existing service provision, new product innovations, understanding impacts, and developing collaborative partnerships. We are still learning as we innovate at pace and are engaging with other organisations who are on a similar pathway to share learnings and best practice.

Our commitment to become a Trauma-Informed Organisation has been the bedrock of how we have responded to Covid-19. We are focused on continuing to support vulnerable children and families and we want to support our paid and unpaid colleagues as best we can.

Examples of innovative and solution-focused practice are in abundance as services move to a phase of virtual hubs, digital solutions and telephone engagement. We are reviewing these constantly to ensure safeguarding and quality principles remain. A dedicated online Covid-19 Hub on our website https://www.barnardos.org.uk/coronavirus-advice-hub is being updated with new content, activities, advice and resources regularly.

While this solution works for many of our families, we are very conscious that for some this is a sticking plaster until they can receive person-centred, face-to-face interactions they require in order to continue to meet their health and social care needs. However, some of the changes staff and services have made during this crisis will continue to support our work in the future. The challenge for us is how to evaluate the impact of such interventions and processes to keep those that work best.


Working in partnership

New and existing commissioners and partners across the health and social care sector have worked alongside us collaboratively to ensure business continuity plans are in place and that we are supported with personal protective equipment (PPE) and other resources as we identify emerging needs.

Joint working and sharing of expertise and materials is vitally important as the sector continues to respond at pace.

Our work with Suffolk CCG is just one example of how statutory and voluntary sectors have together created a brand new provision of therapeutic telephone support. LINK 2020 Family, a service delivered by qualified therapists and counsellors, will benefit approximately 100 families over the next few months by directly discussing and addressing the impact that Covid-19 has had on their mental health, anxiety, family relationships and behaviour.


Navigating turbulent waters 

We continue to operate in a very challenging environment. These are tough times, even for a 154-year-old UK-wide charity such as Barnardo’s.

The closure of our retail stores, following government advice, and the suspension of some fundraising activities, contributes to an estimated loss of income to the tune of around £8 million per month. A coronavirus emergency fundraising appeal has been launched, along with creative ideas to keep people busy and get them fundraising, which so far has received generous public and corporate donations amounting to over £1 million in just a month. Fundraising now more than ever is everyone’s business.

Our emergency response donations are already being used to support vulnerable families, enabling them to access essentials such as food, utilities, mental health and wellbeing resources for children and young people, and technology to help them stay connected with their Barnardo’s support workers. This is a lifeline for many young people.

As we begin to establish a new ‘business as usual’ response to this crisis, we have an eye on the future for recovery planning. At some point children will be going back to school, commuters returning to work and businesses opening to customers. However, we know that for many ‘hidden children and young people’ they won’t be emerging safe and well.

Our mission to protect, nurture and support the UK’s most vulnerable children will never have been more important. We will continue to work with hope to achieve ‘better outcomes for more children’.


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