We held a roundtable with professionals from a range of sectors in Wales to discuss practice issues around working virtually to support children and families.
> Download the findings from our roundtable (PDF)
Using the findings from the roundtable and a range of other evidence, we’ve pulled together tips and highlighted best practice for organisation and practitioners to consider when supporting children and families virtually.
Engaging with children and families
Practitioners should explore the most appropriate way to work with families and not assume that they have access to devices and/or the internet. It’s good practice to draw up a working agreement with children and families which includes information on:
- the timing of sessions
- where sessions should take place
- how to manage confidentiality.
This can help make sure professionals and families are clear about how support will be given. The agreement should be signed by all relevant parties, including parents, carers and children where appropriate (NSPCC, 2021)1.
Practitioners should ask parents and carers how they would prefer to attend sessions and meetings and explore how that is possible within current restrictions. For example, if parents or carers struggle to attend meetings online, could professionals join a child protection conference remotely while parents, carers and the conference chair join from a private office, following strict coronavirus measures? (Baginsky, Eyre and Roe, 20202; Community Care, 20203).
Use a flexible approach to meeting families’ needs and employ a combination of communication methods to allow children and families to express themselves in different ways. This might include combining video calls with phone calls, texting or messaging (Ferguson, Pink and Kelly, 20216; NSPCC, 20215).
It’s vital to maintain a professional relationship with children and families and follow organisational guidance about communication. Organisations should consider updating their codes of conduct, professional boundaries policies and use of IT policies to make sure they cover online working.
It’s important to remember that face-to-face visits are still a vital part of child protection. Consider how best to combine remote working with face-to-face visits and sessions as necessary. Any face-to-face visit should be discussed with a manager and thoroughly risk assessed. Face-to-face visits might be needed:
- where practitioners feel they need to see the family and environment in person
- where the work is much harder to deliver virtually
- if children and families request a visit.
> Read a summary of the guidance on face-to-face work in our briefing for social workers
Any apps, platforms and programmes being used with children and young people must be age appropriate and have suitable privacy settings in place. Net Aware provides a guide to the latest apps and platforms children are using.
Supervision and support
Supervision is an important part of child protection work and should still be taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
> Find out more about the guidance on supervision during COVID-19 in our briefing for social workers
It’s important to create online methods of peer support for practitioners. This could be virtual coffee breaks, remote check-ins or text groups. This can offer a chance to debrief and share best practice (Ferguson, Pink and Kelly, 20216; NSPCC, 20217).
Practitioners should consider the timing of sessions with families and how best to ensure that children, parents and carers will not be overheard by others in the household (NSPCC, 2021)8. To help maintain privacy in the practitioner’s home, one option might be for organisations to provide practitioners with headsets (Baginsky and Manthorpe, 2020)9.
Confidentiality should be discussed at the beginning of each session and practitioners should ask participants if they are likely to be disturbed or if anyone can overhear them. It’s important to highlight the importance of maintaining confidentiality with families and explore how they can ensure sessions are not overheard (Baginsky, Eyre and Roe, 202010; NSPCC, 202111).
However, during the pandemic it might not always be possible for families to achieve complete privacy, for example if parents and carers need to supervise a young child. If children are going to be in earshot, practitioners should consider how best to discuss sensitive issues and think about the language being used.
If practitioners decide it’s necessary to work in a bedroom to maintain privacy, they should understand that this is not best practice, follow organisational guidance and take steps to mitigate any risk.
Include dedicated time at the end of therapeutic sessions to help children and young people process any feelings or memories that have come up during the session before they go back to family life. Make sure children know Childline can give them confidential advice and support. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also get support and advice via the Childline website.
Working at home
Having a co-ordinated, multi-agency approach to supporting children and families continues to be vital during the pandemic. Practitioners should agree with any other organisations involved with a child or family how best to maintain contact and provide support during the pandemic (NSPCC, 2021)12. This might help families balance competing demands.
Everyone’s situation has changed during the pandemic. Practitioners should work with other agencies to review and update risk assessments, making sure they reflect the family’s current situation (NSPCC, 2021)13.
The results of the updated risk assessment can be used to consider the emphasis of work in the current situation. Rather than focused therapeutic work, practitioners might want to explore safety, stabilisation, maintaining relationships and emotional wellbeing with children and young people (NSPCC, 2021).
Organisations should provide best practice guidance for practitioners holding online sessions from home, particularly if they are working one-to-one with a child. This should include making sure they have a neutral background on video calls by working in front of a blank wall, blurring the background or using a digital screen (NSPCC, 2021)14.
> Read about best practice for lone working with children and young people
> Find out about best practice for using social media and online platforms with children and young people