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Criminal Care? · 17 Mar 2020

Covid-19 and residential children’s homes

The country is reeling from the implications of the coronavirus pandemic and the rapidly changing edicts from government which, at the time of writing, included directions to avoid non-essential travel and contact. We await the inevitable announcement that schools will close. No one knows how long these measures will go on for.

In amongst the multitude of issues facing government at the moment, we very much hope that serious thought is being given to the plight of children in residential care. Urgent action needs to be taken to minimise so far as possible the implications of the virus and social distancing for this group of children.

The government has published guidance on Covid-19 in residential care, supported living and home care. Understandably, this guidance is very generic and doesn’t cover specific issues that might be affecting children’s homes. Last Thursday, the Children’s Commissioner sent a letter to the Permanent Secretaries for the Department of Education and Ministry of Housing, Local Government and Communities regarding Covid-19 and children in care. She asked about staffing during the crisis, how children in semi-independent accommodation will be kept informed and supported and what guidance will be issued to social workers on statutory visits including for children accommodated out-of-the area.

Urgent thought needs to be given to so many issues before the situation gets even worse. How will staff convey information about the virus to children? How will they ensure children self-isolate, or observe lock-downs, and support them whilst they are doing so? How will they comfort children worried about relatives? What are homes doing to keep children with underlying health problems safe? How will contact with families be maintained? How will homes tap into schools’ home-learning initiatives? How will they support children’s mental health during what will be an incredibly difficult time? There will be many children who are unhappy in their placement and for whom any enforced self-isolation and lockdown will be completely unbearable. Teenagers, for whom social interaction is so vital, will find it incredibly difficult not to be able to see friends and go about their normal activities.

Local authorities and homes need to be thinking about all of this now. There are some relatively simple and practical things they should be putting in place such as making sure homes are stocked with sufficient hygiene products and supplies of food. All children should have access to the internet and a phone so that they can stay in contact with friends and families and access home-learning resources. Homes should be supplied with additional entertainment for children.

There needs to be vigilance about the monitoring of private companies’ actions over the coming months. Many companies will be looking with an extremely worried eye at their bottom lines. Will they expend the extra resources needed to care for children and keep them physically and mentally well and as comfortable as possible during this time? The worry is that they will instead be looking at ways of cutting costs. Government cannot put the onus on local authorities to manage the actions of these companies during the Covid-19 crisis as they have done for the past two decades. The pressures on and difficulties with placements are very likely to worsen and local authorities may rapidly find themselves in an even more disadvantaged bargaining position than usual with the larger providers. If this proves to be the case, government must step in to ensure that everyone is taking responsibility and their share of the financial burden to get children through the next few months as best as we possibly can.

There are obvious implications for children’s emotional well-being and behaviour during this period. We urge homes and the police to be extra understanding and not to criminalise children unnecessarily.

Claire Sands





  • Monica Chahal says:

    My daughter has autism (non-verbal) and is in a full time residential home. Prior to the outbreak she was use to having weekly contact with me and other family members. Though we skype her this is no longer enough and she has been struggling with our skype contact recently. We would like to her visit her at her residential home with social distancing, checking our temperature and PPE if required. However there appears to be no direction by the government to allow us to do this. I am getting very concerned for her mental health the longer we are unable to not visit her. I am struggling with what to do next

    • Claire.Sands says:

      I’m so sorry to hear about this. We have taken some advice. I will e-mail you privately about this.

  • Claire.Sands says:

    Kevin, thanks so much for taking the time to comment on the post. It’s good to hear about the measures you’re taking and we hope other readers will find that informative and helpful. Unfortunately there are concerns about some private providers as most recently highlighted by the Local Government Association’s report that we blogged about last week but we of course appreciate there is good practice to be found in all parts of the residential care sector. We would very much appreciate hearing more from you as the situation develops to learn how homes and children are coping. Would you be happy for me to make contact with you by e-mail?

    • Danielle says:

      I have not seen my son who has autism for three months nearly, the policy in his residentual school says no home visits, he normally comes home every weekend, please can you offer any advice

  • Kevin Gallagher says:

    You will be pleased to hear that as a specialist childrens homes operator we are already very proactively working with our young people and staff to address all these issues.
    Our young people live in therapeutic communities – a specific relationship based model with a strong evidence base. They are fully involved in our planning, have access to therapists daily, we are managing family contacts by phone and skype, they are planning alternative activities that work with social distancing, they all have en-suite bedrooms in readiness for any necessary self isolation, school is being maintained (we have this on our own campus). You are very quick to be critical of the private sector – please expand your analysis to explain to your readers that this is a very diverse sector and private providers come in lots of shapes and sizes (and ownership) and we are not all the same. You might also want to report on the recent independent report that the costs of delivering like for like service in the public sector are 20% higher. This is a more nuanced issue that the polarized public vs private narrative that you seem to promote

    • Great work, Kev – of course you are bit unusual in being so ‘on it’ both in terms of such a relational and (genuinely) therapeutic approach. Many claim to be all these things, particularly therapeutic, but aren’t – as you know. Keep up the good work. More power to you, mate – stay well! Cheers, J.

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