Presented by Joe Tynan, the report informed the Committee of the significant changes made to working practices within Thurrock Children’s Social Care, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the measures that have been taken to ensure children continue to be supported and safeguarded. The report can be found on pages 15 – 20 of the Agenda.
The Chair questioned whether there had been challenges on safeguarding children during COVID-19 particularly where vulnerable children were not able to attend school. Joe Tynan explained that social workers had been creative when seeing children during lockdown and had delivered food parcels to families with vulnerable and had been speaking with children through windows. Through discussions with families being support supported by the Council, the service was able to make decisions according to concerns raised such as COVID-19 contamination. The statutory duty was for the service to contact families being supported under Child in Need every 20 days but during lockdown, this had been increased to every fortnight and where the children had not been seen or heard, the service would make unannounced visits. There had been challenges but the service had seen more engagement and communication from some children and teenagers through technology methods. The service was currently looking into a recovery plan with local authorities in the eastern region where ideas would be shared. In the event of a local lockdown, the service was prepared and was liaising with partner agencies, monitoring referrals in the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) and communications had been sent out to ensure people were aware of the routes of referral and support for young people. As schools would be returning in September, a strategy was in place if there was an influx and to manage a potential increase in domestic abuse or mental health issues.
The Committee discussed how the MASH was currently operating during lockdown which was still operating in the same way as before but with a limited capacity in the office and staff working at home were still able to work in the same way as they would in the office. The MASH had also seen a number of referrals reduced. Members queried whether there had been an increase in domestic abuse during lockdown which there had not been but the service was tracking these on a weekly basis.
The Committee sought clarification of the risk assessment system for children and Joe Tynan explained that the risk assessment looked at each child’s individual needs and the risks associated with these. Children on a child protection plan were identified as an imminent risk as they had already met the threshold for a child protection plan so they would be assessed as a ‘red’ case that needed face-to-face contact particularly where there were particular concerns such as neglect or family dysfunction. For certain level of concerns, there would be more frequent contact with families and independent cases were looked at by the Quality Assurance Team and reviewed and signed off by team managers and senior managers.
The Committee questioned if children, that were not suspected to be lower risk, were being monitored as children had not been in school and could be influenced to have different views or opinions. Joe Tynan explained that schools had been in regular contact with children and where there were concerns, the service had been liaising with schools. Children that were perceived to be lower risk were offered virtual contact, if any concerns were raised a direct would be undertaken to explore the issue with the child and their family. The service worked with parents to provide advice and support in a creative way.
That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee Members were informed about the support and protection provided to all children and young people open to, or referred to, Children’s Social Care or Early Help Services within the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic.