I feel quite privileged working for the bi-borough because both Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster have made significant investment in children’s services.
We have a systemic model of practice across the bi-borough, and that’s really coming into the fore now, because our staff are incredibly skilled at engaging with families. That’s really important right now in enabling them to feel safe and confident enough to tell us when they need help and what they need help with.
Our staff are trained to understand most of the issues in the context of relationships. Of course while everyone is stuck indoors it’s relationships that are under the microscope right now. So they’re really able to think with different family members about how their behaviour is impacting on different members of the family, and what they might want to do to enjoy better relationships at this particularly difficult and challenging time. I’m being copied into lots of emails from families who are saying the support they’re getting from their workers is really helpful in enabling them to cope in the circumstances.
When the lockdown happened our children’s centres became virtual centres, and we started developing activity packs for different age groups of children and getting them sent out to parents so they had things they could be doing with their families.
Our short breaks service is set up for young people to come into two centres in Westminster and a Kensington and Chelsea. It was remodeled quite quickly to provide homecare, recognising that some of our children with complex disabilities weren’t going to be able to come into the centres.
We made sure that all of the vulnerable families open to social care and our early help service had a laptop and access to the internet. So we re-purposed some of the council’s older stock of laptops to get them out very quickly. We worked closely with our economic development team and our IT service to make sure that we provided a solution in the quickest time frame. We ensured that we could contact families, and that we weren’t just reliant on telephone contact and that we were able to use digital platforms in order to see them.
That approach has also been really successful for our teenagers in care, and our care leavers, who are really now enjoying lots of Whats App groups that have been set up, some of which involve us, and some of which they’re running themselves.
Our children in care meetings have all gone to virtual platforms, as have our child protection conferences and our looked after children reviews. What was quite impressive is how quickly the offer moved into the virtual arena.
Last year we did an innovation pilot with FutureGov, developing an interactive computer package that allowed social work visits to be recorded in real time. Really interestingly, the families reported that they found it good because they had a recording of what had happened and what was agreed to and it would go straight into their inbox.
Social workers found it really difficult, because all of a sudden they had this IT device in the middle of their relationship with the family. Whereas now we are totally reliant on technology and devices. And immediately social workers have seen how the pilot is going to revolutionalise the way they work.
Our schools are now all working together to make that there’s a sustainable local offer. Like most authorities we haven’t seen high numbers of children going to school at the moment. But we are talking to families about their fears, and gradually talking to them about what they would need to feel safe enough for their children to go to school.
I think our staff have been anxious, particularly about visits, but they have been going out. What we’ve seen during this period is a recognition that what they do adds value, and does enable families to cope. In the last four weeks I think I’ve seen more praise for social workers than I’ve seen probably in my whole careers.
At the moment the majority of staff do believe they have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect them. We have a small number of children with very complex health needs and we are talking to our health partners to make sure we have sufficient supplies of PPE, for the very specialist equipment that they need.
We’ve had to think quite carefully about visits. Clearly with older children it’s easier to practice self-distancing. But for younger children it’s more difficult. So our advice to staff has been if they need to visit really think about what the risks are and if necessary use PPE. Families are I think feeling more confident if staff have the masks. Because for families that offers them some protection.
We’ve made good use of our relationship with the Department for Education to share what we have learned and developed throughout the pandemic with the wider education sector - and we are learning from others too.
I do think this will now change the way we work. We’ve finally embraced the technological age and I think it will change the way we work forever now.