The invisible impact of coronavirus
I cannot be the only one whose Instagram feed over the past five weeks has been full of sourdough starters, shaved heads and relentless exercise challenges. While this probably reveals a lot about who I follow on social media as a millennial Londoner, it is great to see so many people responding positively during this challenging time. And given social media feeds are our only window into the world outside, it would be easy to believe that banana bread and leisurely daily walks are the majority experience.
But I’m worried about the families, and particularly the children and young people, who we aren’t seeing on social media – or anywhere for that matter. For many children across the UK, the Government’s calls to ‘Stay Home’ and ‘Stay alert’ are not keeping them safe. With lockdown bringing the closure of schools and community services that vulnerable families might normally engage with, 2.3 million children who are on the edge of needing social services’ involvement have become invisible overnight and are currently not receiving any help.
Some families are struggling to cope and care for their children well in this crisis, leaving many vulnerable to abuse or neglect. With the National Domestic Abuse Helpline reporting a 25% increase in calls since Lockdown began, there are thousands of children who will be experiencing violence or abuse in their home with few touchpoints for them to be identified. Despite the Government encouraging vulnerable children to continue attending school to prevent them going under the radar, attendance has been extremely low. As a result, child protection referrals have dropped by 50% since lockdown began, leaving many concerned about the wellbeing and safety of these children.
We anticipate a significant spike in children entering the care system when these children become visible again.
But sadly, they will be entering a system already on its knees. There are currently around 99,000 children in care across the UK; a number that has been rising steadily over the last decade. This has created huge demand for foster and adoptive families and a shortage of both has even meant that some young people are placed alone in inappropriate forms of accommodation including tents, caravans and canal boats because social workers, who are having to make the toughest decisions, are simply out of options.
All these challenges are being exacerbated by coronavirus. Many existing foster carers have had to step back from fostering due to self-isolating or health concerns. With a significant proportion of foster carers being older, local authorities are concerned about how many more may have to stop fostering if they become unwell.
So we have vulnerable children across the country currently invisible, a shortage of foster families, and existing foster carers having to step back. Needless to say, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But there is hope.
Home for Good is working with several local authorities who are looking for new foster carers during this time. And they are looking to churches. In one area, we have found 14 families in one month who are now going through the assessment process to become foster families. The Church is stepping forward and stepping up for vulnerable children, just as it is called to.
But there is still much more to do and you can help.
- CONSIDER welcoming a child into your home. Visit https://homeforgood.org.uk/foster
- LEARN the warning signs of a child who may be at risk or in danger and where to go for help. Visit https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-is-child-abuse/spotting-signs-child-abuse/
- SUPPORT a foster, adoptive or kinship family you know by reaching out to pray and encourage them during this time.
- PRAY for social workers who are trying to find the best homes for children, for invisible children across our country and for foster, adoptive and kinship families caring for vulnerable children.
For more information and to see how Home for Good is responding during Coronavirus, please visit homeforgood.org.uk/coronavirusresponse
Written by Natalie Mills (Policy and Research Officer for Home For Good)