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Podcast: impact on delivering children’s services during lockdown

Last updated: 29 Jun 2020 Topics: Podcast

We asked a Children’s service practitioner about their experience working with children and families during lockdown

Social distancing measures and lockdown has made it difficult for practitioners to provide direct contact to children and families. Other than occasional doorstep visits, check-ins are no longer face-to-face but take place through video and telephone calls. How are practitioners ensuring that children and families’ needs are still being met?

In our final episode of our coronavirus (COVID-19) series, we hear from a children’s services practitioner about:

  • the pressures of lockdown and the long-term impact, including looking out for concerning signs of abuse and neglect
  • how they’re working with multiple agencies to meet different children and families’ needs and distributing resources for parents and carers
  • potential child protection issues that may emerge as we transition back to pre-lockdown life
  • how children are being supported to understand current issues in a child-friendly way
  • next steps for delivering services virtually, such as group work programmes.

About Dannie Adcock-Habib

Dannie Adcock-Habib is a Children’s Services Practitioner at the NSPCC’s Grimsby Service Centre and a qualified social worker who is involved in undertaking Family Focus assessments. She delivers the NSPCC’s Building Blocks service and Young SMILES service (Simplifying Mental Illness plus Life Enhancement Skills).

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Related resources

> See our resources for children and families at risk

> Find out more about the Together for Childhood programme

> Learn about the effects of toxic stress on child development


Podcast transcript

Welcome to NSPCC Learning, a series of podcasts that cover a range of child protection issues to inform, create debate, and tell you all about the work we do to keep children safe. At the heart of every podcast is the child's voice, and how what they tell us, informs the work we do.

Hi and welcome to the latest NSPCC Learning podcast. This is the fourth and last episode in our series looking at how professionals from education, social care and health have adapted and adjusted their services in order to safeguard children and young people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fourth podcast in the series focuses on social care. I had a chat with one of my colleagues, Dannie Adcock-Habib. Dannie is one of our Children's Services Practitioners and works in our Grimsby Service Centre. We talked about how lockdown has impacted Dannie's work and how she's been keeping in touch with and supporting the children, young people and families that she would usually see face-to-face and we also spoke about what Dannie thought the child protection issues were going to be as we transition back to the 'new normal'.

I began by asking Dannie what her main safeguarding and child protection concerns have been since lockdown began.

We're used to visiting families face-to-face. So our contact with families is in the home. We see the children direct. We see the parents direct. And we can kind of see the environment that they're in as well. That obviously has gone, or it had gone initially, particularly when everything was over the phone and I think for me it was sort of the pressures of lockdown. For everybody it can feel quite intense. I think families have got lots of other things going on. The children are then not at school anymore, they're at home. That for me was quite a big worry. Sort of thinking about how the impact of being at home and lockdown could have on the children and on the parents as well.

We were having a lot of discussions over the phone. You go off a lot of what they're saying to you rather than being able to observe it for yourself, so that was quite a big worry. And I think what we know about stress as well, so there's different types of stress. In terms of tolerable stress, it might be that a child's at home but they've got parents that are attentive. Parents that are able to meet all their needs. That can help ease the stress of lockdown. Whereas if a child's at home in lockdown and then also has parents that maybe are substance misusing, there might be domestic abuse, that's going to add to the stress on that child. And then they've got no resilience in place for them. So they're not going to school. They don't have the support that they're used to in terms of professionals coming in and seeing them regularly. And my worry is the impact on the children from that.

Going on from that Dannie, how are you keeping in touch with the children and young people and families that you would usually see face-to-face?

The main consistent thing that we've been doing is having regular phone check-ins every week with families. So we'll talk to the children and the parents over the phone and do a check-in to make sure that everybody's okay, see if there's anything that they need, whether it's food parcels or resources and things like that. So that's kind of stayed consistent right from the start.

What we started to do a little bit more as well as is video call in. We're using a lot of technology which can be fun because technology can be a little bit temperamental. But we are trying to utilise that a little bit more so we're able to sort see face-to-face. And I think that gives you a lot more because on the phone you're kind of missing out on the facial contacts and the cues that you can often get from seeing faces. We are looking at specifically delivering services in this way as well. So we're starting to do desktop assessments and delivering group work programmes and specific services over video call and telephone calls as well. Because we have to just completely adapt to the situation.

Something else that I've enjoyed doing is that we've been doing some doorstep visits. I think again it's that face-to-face contact. So while we can't go in the home and we have got to be cautious and make sure that we're social distancing. I've been doing a few knocking on the door and then going to the gate and being able to just check in with the child or the parents that way as well.

And how for you especially when it was telephone conversations that you were having, what would have been kind of red flags for you that might have raised a concern when you're not seeing people face-to-face and you're not able to go into the home or they're not able to come see you? So things like body language and stuff, you can't interpret that. What would raise a concern with you?

I mean, we've got to be on high alert in terms of hearing for things that might give us a bit of a clue that something else might be going on. I know one parent I spoke to over the phone, she wasn't a family that I was familiar with because we are covering each other's caseloads as well at times, but I just got a tone from her. It was just that she said everything was fine but I could just feel that she didn't sound quite herself. I'd spoken to her the week before when she was a little bit more chatty and a little bit more upbeat.

What I knew from her case file and from chatting to my colleague, I was able to understand that she does have some mental health problems. So for me then that gave me a little bit of a clue that maybe things weren't as well as she was saying they were. That then prompted me to go out and do a doorstep visit and just see her face-to-face and just be honest with her and say, “I feel like you're not sounding yourself, is it okay that I come out and see you, we can have a bit of a catch up”. And for her she felt that she was quite isolated and she was lonely at home. And I think for her it benefited her seeing another adult because she only lives at home with her child and to be able to have a bit of a chat. So we talked about then being able to maybe rather than just doing a once a week phone call - couple of texts throughout the week, a phone call and then maybe a doorstep visit if she was feeling low. Or just in general just to be able to go and check in and just see how everybody was doing.

My next question is how you've been working with other practitioners. So that could be our own colleagues from the NSPCC but also other professionals from other areas of social care - so the local authority or education or health - in how you guys have been working together and about sharing advice and good practice and providing some support. How has that been for you?

I mean in terms of keeping in touch with my colleagues, we have regular video calls as a team which I've really found helpful because I think it's that contact that we're not used to having. We see each other every day in the office usually and share advice and share updates as to how things are going in our work. And I suppose in our own lives as well. So to have that regular contact with my colleagues has been really, really valuable to me.

We talk about how we're managing our cases. We're able to share things have gone well and maybe things that haven't gone so well. So if we had some issues with our technology or we've had a really good visit, how we've managed to navigate that. And that's been really helpful to me in my work to be able to share that and to be able to receive that advice as well.

In terms of working with other agencies, Grimsby's a Together for Childhood site. So we're using a real partnership approach with other agencies. And doing that, we've been able to offer ongoing emotional support to even more families. We've been able to have a real wide reach to families locally to support and offer check-ins, resources and food parcels. And that's been really helpful, to be able to get different referrals from different agencies as well.

Has that been really beneficial that you've had a wider group of people to get support from and give support to?

Yeah, definitely. I think having the strong partnerships with so many agencies has really helped us work together to be able to meet different needs in the community. So it might be that we get a referral. We can't offer that specific service but we might be able to speak to somebody and sort that support out to make sure that those family’s needs are still met.

I have had quite a lot of conversations with social workers who are also navigating this situation and working very differently. One particular social worker that I've worked closely with who we share a case, she's had a lot of conversation with me about, “does this feel strange to you as well?” and I think we need to be open with our colleagues about how we’re feeling and how we're trying to navigate this situation. And she was kind of feeling quite anxious that she wasn't doing a job in the same way. We had a bit of an open chat about that so I was able to say do you know what, I feel the same. And these are the ideas I've had as to how we can try and still meet the needs of the family.

Because we need that as well as adults, don't we? What we want to be able to do is when we see the children and families, we want to be able for them to see you us being upbeat and being helpful and so that we can support them. It's great that we can talk to other colleagues about our own worries and anxieties and we get that out of the way before we see any family. So that's really good to hear. And hopefully that will probably carry on, won't it, for a good while yet because we're still transitioning and we're still kind of trying to work out what this is all about. So it's good to hear that people are kind of supporting each other. That’s brilliant.
Definitely. I think in this role, you can kind of forget about your own needs because you're so focused on supporting the families that you work with and the children. And we can kind of leave ourselves by the wayside a little bit and forget about our own emotional needs and the fact that we're also dealing with this situation where we're also working through a pandemic. So to have that emotional support from our colleagues and the other professionals and just an acknowledgement that it's okay to feel a little bit overwhelmed at times. That is really helpful.

Can we slightly move on to talk about the social side of things for children and young people? A lot of them might be feeling very isolated because they can't see friends and other members of their family face-to-face. What have you been doing to encourage children and young people to keep in touch with either their friends or other members of their family remotely but also safely?

I think that's definitely a theme with the children that we speak to. A lot of it is that they're missing their friends. Again with children, they're at school every single day and they see their friends every day, so this has been such a shift for them. And I know a lot of children have expressed feeling lonely or bored at home. We have been doing a lot of phone calls and doorstep visits and we make sure we include the children in them. I always ask can they come down and come and chat to me for a minute, come sit on the doorstep, which has been lovely to hear about what they have been up to but also to give them that emotional support that they need.

We're also looking at doing group video calls. So in Grimsby, we do offer some group work programmes for children where we would bring children together who are experiencing similar things at home. That might be that they've all got parents who have got mental ill-health and we bring them together to do a group work programme around that. We're not able to do that in real life but we are looking at virtually doing that. So bringing them together over video calling and giving them an opportunity to share their experiences, to get some emotional support but also to meet other children that are at home and are also experiencing similar things in the homes. And I think that's going to hopefully be quite helpful to them as well as something that we can trial out and see if we can widen that a little bit.

And I guess the children and young people have probably quite taken to that. They're digital natives. I'm sure they're a lot more used to this. I don't want to lump you in the same age category as me Dannie! So have they enjoyed that and you've seen them flourish and just enjoy that different kind of interaction?

Yeah, I mean you've hit the nail on the head. They are very much in touch with all the internet stuff that they can use at the moment. So when I've talked to children they’re telling me about all kinds of different things and I'm thinking I'm going to have to Google that later so I know what that is! I mean I probably know what Snapchat is. I don't know what all these new ones are.

Something I have been really aware of is just making sure that parents are kind of up to speed with what the kids are using.


So we have been providing the O2 'Keeping children safe online' booklets just to make sure that parents are understanding how they can make sure the children are safe.

This might be a really big question Dannie but what do you think the child protection issues might be going forward as we begin to transition back to normal life? If we ever do, it might be a new normal but what do you think that they might be in the future?

I think from what we spoke about earlier in terms of what the safeguarding concerns have been coming into lockdown, I think coming out of lockdown, is the kind of long term impact. So when we spoke about toxic stress that could have long term impacts on children. The trauma they might have experienced during this time if they've been at home with parents that are substance using or if they've had mental health problems during this period, is how can we help children recover from that?

I think as well for parents, there's a lot of mental health. There's a lot of anxiety around what's been going on. Parents who maybe already struggled with anxiety and this on top of that is going to be really difficult for them to kind of come out of. And I think we need to acknowledge that and understand what their experiences have been. I think we've all got our own stories as professionals or as children as to how this experience has affected us and how we've had to navigate through that. And I think just to acknowledge that and understand that their own experiences may have long term impacts and so we need to explore how we can support families through that.

I think for children they've had such significant changes to deal with. I'm seeing that kids are starting to go back to school which is positive. Like you say, we're starting to transition back to normal but I think it's very new version of normal. And children are having to try and understand this social distancing when it's such a big concept for us as adults to understand. And I think then for children, it can be really difficult.

Absolutely. I think that children are naturally tactile aren't they with their friends and they're used to being able to hug grandparents and other members of their family. So it doesn't feel like a natural thing for us to say to children, “you need to be two metres apart from your friends”. That is going to be tricky and then there's the slight worry about when social distancing does end or ease, kind of reintroducing that. So that's going to be interesting about how that plays out and how we speak to our children and young people about navigating that. It's so unprecedented, isn't it? I don't have any answers. But is this something you're concerned about or do you feel that children are naturally resilient?

I think there's definitely something in children having the resilience to deal with difficult situations. But if there's other trauma going on at home as well, I suppose it's the worry as to how they don't have the usual support that they've got at home. And it's kind of then just making sure that we can support them to develop the resilience over this time when we are able to go see them.

Like you say, it's natural for children. When I've gone and done some doorstep visits, definitely younger children naturally want to come out and see you. They run out to come towards you and it's that difficult balance of having to move away from them without them feeling rejected I suppose and feeling you don't want to be near them. Obviously, it's the most natural thing in the world, they want to come over and see you and come close to you and look in your bag and see what you're carrying. And so then to kind of have to step back from those children that can be quite difficult and it's unnatural for me as well and unnatural for us as professionals. As each week goes on, we are starting to think about how we can continue to adapt to this situation, so every week is a new normal I think. We want to follow the new guidelines but we also want to start moving forward.

I think children are very, very aware of what's going on around them. And I think that we've got to definitely be honest but in a way that's child appropriate. What we did develop within Grimsby is a child-friendly booklet that describes a little bit about COVID. So it's all pictures and it kind of tells a little story but it's written in a way that children can understand and hopefully not in a way that's going to frighten them too much. We need them to understand why these changes are happening - you don't want to step away and have them feel rejected. We want them to understand why we've had to do that. And maybe just a little reminder, like gentle reminder that we do have to keep our distance and referencing this leaflet that hopefully parents have gone through with their children or we can go through that with them if needed.

Great. Oh that's brilliant, that sounds like a great resource. Thanks Dannie. We've chatted about this throughout this podcast but I'd just be interested to get your opinion on what you think you and other practitioners could do or what you are doing to support children and families as things begin to change and revert back to this new normal that we refer to.

A big thing for me that I've found parents and families really appreciate from us is being honest and being human. Letting them know that if we don't know the answers, maybe it's just telling them that. So do you know what, I'm not sure what's going to happen next week but this is what I know currently and this is what we're looking at doing. And I think that honesty helps them feel a little bit more reassured as well because we are all in the same boat and I do make sure that I acknowledge that with families. Always telling them what we're planning. If we're looking at maybe doing different types of service delivery, explaining that to them and getting their views as well. Is there anything that I can do to help you? Is there anything that you think I could do differently in order to support you better? I think there's a lot to be said for listening and hearing what it is that they need during this time rather than focusing too heavily on delivering something really rigid.

Have you been getting some good ideas that you've been able to take back to other families that you've either heard from the young people themselves or families? And have they said “it would be great if it could be like this”?

The children were consulted when we started developing the group work programme over video calling. Practitioners went out and did the doorstep visits or spoke to the children on the phone and ask them for their feedback, talked to them about how they feel about doing it as well. Because we can plan it but if they're not comfortable with it or there's a way they feel would be better for them, that's what's going to make it work the best, is getting their views and getting their ideas.

In Grimsby we have been offering resource packs. I know speaking to families, we found that a lot of parents were struggling with the idea of teaching children at home. So because the children aren't at school they're worried that they're going to be missing out on learning. And I think they felt a lot of pressure to do a maths lesson and do an English lesson and teach them something really specific.

I've had a lot of conversations with parents about being able to adapt that and being a little bit more flexible. So it might not be necessarily doing a maths lesson but you might be able to do a baking activity and within that you could do a bit of counting and a bit of adding up and things like that. We've also offered resource packs where we've put together a lot of activities that children can do. So whether it's colouring in or whether it's some sort of maths-related topics and things like that. And I think they've been quite helpful for families because not a lot of them have printers and things like that as well. We're taking them out quite regularly so when the children have finished those activities, we can send them some new bits. And that'll include some art resources as well, some crafts and things like that just to keep the children busy really.

Because it's a big worry for parents, isn't it, the whole education side of things? We know schools are safe spaces for children anyway but actually having been taken out of that is a huge thing. Like I said, not just the education side of things but the creativity, the social side. That's giving some kind of consistency and normality, so it sounds amazing.

I think the lack of school definitely has impacted across the board. So like you say, in terms of the children's social interaction, their learning, their development. But also for us, we know that children are in school, they’re developing resilience, they've got teachers that are able to see them regularly and sort of see if maybe they're not themselves that day, maybe have a chat with them, whereas because they're at home all the time that is such a big change for us and for them.

Have you been getting any contact from schools? Would they contact you to say we've got a bit of concern?

Yeah, I mean we've had some children that have remained in school whether it's even just one or two days a week or some have been able to go for a bit longer. So we do keep in touch with schools in terms of checking in. It's a handy relationship to have with schools to be able to say, can you give me a ring if you do notice anything out of the ordinary with this child or if this child is maybe presenting differently to what you used to. It's been really helpful to get those updates as well.

Dannie, it's been really great chatting to you. We've heard some great stuff. And I'm sure the children and young people and families that you're working with are so appreciative of everything you and your colleagues are doing. Thank you for talking to us.

Thanks for having me.


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