4 minute read
We have adapted to the changing landscape, as have the families we advise via our freephone helpline and our online parents’ and family and friends carers’ discussion boards. It is a challenging time for all but for parents and families whose children are already vulnerable, Covid 19 represents an additional layer of challenge on top of those they already face.
As advisers, we use our knowledge and skills to enable callers to navigate their involvement with children’s services and the family courts, in this evolving situation.
Everyday life for families and working practices within the child welfare and family justice systems have changed dramatically. The shift to remote ways of working mean that many visits and decision-making forums including Looked After Child reviews, child protection conferences and court hearings are now ‘virtual’. We have seen a flood of new legislation, government and sector guidance introduce these changes. We are lucky to have legal advisers who ensure that advisers are kept up to date as new information emerges so that we can share this with the callers we advise.
The impact of Covid 19 provides the backdrop to many of our current queries. During ‘lockdown’ we answer many calls about how this affects contact – between parents and their children in foster and adoptive homes, kinship care arrangements or who live with another parent.
Our new ‘advice during the Coronavirus Crisis’ section of the website helps supplement and clarify the advice we give to callers.
One grandmother, querying her kinship fostering assessment, told me that the social worker had given her a copy of our ‘top tips for kinship carers to help children maintain relationships during the Coronavirus outbreak’ and they both found it invaluable!
Queries about care proceedings, the care system and child protection make up the majority of our calls, with domestic violence most often prompting the call or social workers’ involvement. This is still the case. However, advisers are finding that the pandemic brings a new, more complex dimension to these issues, for families.
I have advised callers who are challenged by practical, technological or digital poverty problems. These include the father who missed his son’s family court hearing because his broadband crashed. Or the mother who could not make herself heard in a child protection conference by phone. As professionals could not see her she felt effectively ‘out of sight out of mind’.
There is also the emotional impact of procedures and practices. As an adviser, I often hear about (mis)communication problems. Covid 19 arrangements make it even harder now for parents to hear concerns or difficult news. They often face distressing situations without emotional support or reassurance from someone’s physical presence. Sometimes social workers have not prepared how to discuss sensitive matters with them via phone or video calls. A kinship carer felt the ‘national crisis’ was used to shut down her legitimate concerns.
I have also spoken to callers who welcome newer ‘virtual’ ways of keeping in touching with their children which sometimes helps parents form stronger links with foster carers.
Callers seek advice when they need support. One such call really stands out for me. The caller rang from her bathroom – it was the only room where she could make a private call – as a parent to her own young children (all home as their schools were closed) and a carer for two siblings whose mother had sadly recently died as a result of Covid 19. I could hear her sense of relief when I answered. She had made a life-changing decision to care for the children in a crisis while grieving and arranging a ‘lockdown’ funeral.
I was able to talk her through the different legal and support options, how to formalise care of the children, recognising and reassuring her that, as a kinship carer she is entitled to (and how to) ask for, a social worker to assess the children’s needs and her support needs. Together we identified a possible way forward, with clear guidance and advice to strengthen her case.