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Referrals drop by half, parents ‘humiliated’ and going without sleep - the impact of coronavirus on Norfolk’s most vulnerable families

PUBLISHED: 06:00 30 June 2020 | UPDATED: 14:42 30 June 2020

Some children are in danger of being forgotten about by the system due to the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Getty

Some children are in danger of being forgotten about by the system due to the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Getty

Archant

Vulnerable children are being referred to social services in Norfolk half as often as before the coronavirus lockdown came into force, it has been revealed.

Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk Counnty Council. Pic: ArchantSteve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk Counnty Council. Pic: Archant

Norfolk’s vulnerable families are facing a litany of problems in lockdown, leaving many children “failed and forgotten” and parents struggling to cope, it can be revealed.

A lack of support triggered by coronavirus has left some parents of disabled children without an unbroken night’s sleep in months.

Meanwhile, families are being “humiliated” by failings and delays of a national scheme to feed children who normally get free school meals vouchers.

And vulnerable children are being referred to social services in Norfolk half as often as before the coronavirus lockdown came into force, it has been revealed.

County councillors agreed to launch a review into work done to support the most vulnerable children and young people throughout the lockdown. Photo: GettyCounty councillors agreed to launch a review into work done to support the most vulnerable children and young people throughout the lockdown. Photo: Getty

A 50pc drop in referrals to the county council’s children’s services department has been recorded, as a review of the department’s work during the pandemic was launched.

Officials also revealed just over 40pc of children who were eligible to be in school under the government’s lockdown rules were currently attending classes.

The news follows a report by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) into a generation of youngsters being “failed and forgotten” amid the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak.

READ MORE: SPECIAL REPORT: ‘Failed and forgotten’ - are a generation of our children being let down?

Sara Tough, director of children services at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.Sara Tough, director of children services at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

And county councillors have evaluated the work done by the children’s services department to support the most vulnerable children and young people throughout the crisis, as part of a review into the council’s pandemic response.

At a meeting of the council’s scrutiny committee on Monday, June 29, members heard from officials.

Sara Tough, executive director, told members issues were linked to children not being in school, nor having any contact with health or support professionals

“We rely heavily on our universal services for the normal safeguarding arrangements to identify children,” she said.

Norfolk County Councillor, Emma Corlett. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYNorfolk County Councillor, Emma Corlett. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

And she warned: “We’re planning to manage a potential surge in demand over the next three months.”

Phil Watson, director of children’s social care, said: “We simply don’t know accurately what that surge will look like.”

He told councillors referrals over fears for vulnerable children had dropped by a half.

“We’re not unique in this,” he said. “Demand has rounded down by around 50pc of normal levels.

“Children who are at risk of being exploited, either sexually or into criminal activity in gangs - the current climate is only going to amplify risk and we’re seeing fewer referrals for these.”

READ MORE: ‘Not what I want for Norfolk’s children’ - council admit SEND weaknesses

Mr Watson added that face-to-face support from social workers had continued for approximately two-thirds of youngsters on child protection plans, while risk assessments had been carried out for other children, with face-to-face visits on a case-by-case basis.

The committee also heard from Chris Snudden, learning and inclusion director, who said the council had taken on a coordination role for schools, which she said did a “magnificent job setting up safe environments” but that education was still “in the eye of the storm”.

Just over two fifths - 43pc - of eligible children are currently attending school in the county. Last week, 42pc of reception children, 37pc of year one, and 50pc of year six were in school, while 38pc of year 10 and 31pc of year 12 were in attendance.

A total 11,500 children of critical workers have been in school, with just under 1,300 children with a social worker and just under 1,400 with an education, health and care plan attending classes.

READ MORE: Heads know best when schools should reopen, say council chiefs

Scrutiny chairman Steve Morphew said: “I am very concerned about how well resourced learners in deprived areas are. They get one shot.”

Emma Corlett, Labour county councillor for Town Close, said there was a lack of respite care for children with special educational needs or disabilities and said: “There are parents who have not had an unbroken night’s sleep for months now.”

Ms Tough said all of Norfolk special schools, bar one, remained open to offer support to families, while risk assessments to resume respite breaks were being done.

READ MORE: Delays see families left without free school meal vouchers

And Mr Morphew highlighted issues with the delays over the free school meals voucher programme, and said: “Some of it was quite humiliating for them. I don’t want to hear anything like that happening again.”

The council said issues with the service had been fed back to the Department for Education (DfE), but that the scheme was a “massive ask” for one company to rollout nationwide within a few days.

Councillors voted to set up a children’s services scrutiny sub-committee, to assess the council’s transformation plan for the department and “ensure the council is achieving the best possible outcomes for young people and their families in Norfolk”.

READ MORE: Almost 2,000 laptops to help Norfolk pupils learn from home - but critics say it’s not enough


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