COVID-19: what we've learnt about helping children and families

Last updated: 23 Mar 2021
Introduction
Practitioner wearing a mask talking to child

Childhood has been very different since the first national lockdown in March 2020.

Sadly, we know that the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns have also increased the risk of child abuse and neglect. But at a time when support is so desperately needed, restrictions have meant the very services that could help struggling families and protect children have been reduced.

We've all had to adapt and find new ways to be there for children. During the first lockdown, our frontline staff prioritised supporting families' immediate needs - such as signposting to financial support, making and delivering food parcels and delivering home learning and play resources.

Continuing contact and service delivery from NSPCC practitioners provided families with some sense of normality and consistency. Existing relationships in our Together for Childhood areas enabled us to work together with our partners and respond to the needs of local communities. And we adapted our direct services, by offering flexible support - sometimes a blend of virtual and in-person support - to meet the needs of each child and family we work with.

We have continued to deliver some services in person where the work is trauma-focused or when children or caregivers need face-to-face support. But virtual delivery does work and is appropriate for some services. Staff are using their professional judgement to decide when support needs to be delivered in person or when it can be delivered in a blended format.

Take a look at the information on this page to find out more about what we’ve learnt from adapting our services and what research tells us about the impact of coronavirus on children’s wellbeing.

Looking ahead

After one year of living through a pandemic, adapting and evaluating our services has taught us how to respond to the constantly changing needs of children and families. It might be hard to imagine life after the pandemic. But we will continue to collaborate, adapt, evaluate and learn about what works.

And we will continue to share this learning and insight, because together we can support children and families when they need us most.

Delivering services

Our learning from delivering services to children and families

As we adapt and evaluate our virtual and blended services, we're continually learning more. So far, we've found it's important to:

  • be flexible and collaborative
  • consider privacy and confidentiality
  • review and update safeguarding arrangements
  • provide emotional and technical support for staff working from home.

Flexibility and collaboration

We've found that relationships developed between practitioners, children and families before the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns, have eased the transition to virtual delivery formats. Although it takes longer to develop new relationships established purely through digital delivery, this really helped when planned in-person work could begin again.

Use of technology

Not all children and families will have access to devices and WiFi and this needs to be taken into consideration when planning delivery. A partnership approach, such as that in our Together for Childhood areas, can help resolve the digital divide.

Privacy and confidentiality

It's obviously essential that confidentiality is maintained when frontline staff are working from home. However it can be difficult to maintain privacy when you’re working around family routines.

Emotional impact

It’s best practice never to carry out work with a child in a bedroom. But during the pandemic, it has sometimes been necessary for online sessions to take place with one or more participants in a bedroom. Delivering sessions from a bedroom could have an emotional impact on a child if they have experienced abuse in their bedroom.

Safeguarding arrangements

Family life and circumstances have changed considerably during the pandemic. This has created additional pressures for vulnerable families and can increase the risk of harm for some children.

Supporting staff

Balancing work and home lives can be challenging for frontline practitioners working from home, especially if they care for young children. Managers should ensure appropriate support is in place for staff such as ensuring availability of managers, continuation of co-working arrangements and peer support from other team members, online practice sessions to share learning and experiences.

Challenges with technology

We identified some key challenges concerning IT poverty as well as organisational technical capability when our Baby Steps service was adapted by NSPCC and external delivery partners 

Organisations should explore investing in technology, training and support to for staff and families.

Further reading

> Discover how Together for Childhood Sites responded to the immediate needs of children and families during COVID-19

> Find out more about what we've learnt from delivering local direct services to children and families during COVID-19

> Learn more about undertaking child protection work virtually

> Find out more about how we worked with partners to adapt Baby Steps

Impact of COVID-19

The impact of COVID-19 on child wellbeing

Being at home more means that some children and young people experiencing abuse or neglect are at greater risk.

Some children are reflecting more on non-recent abuse, or are less able to distract themselves from the impact of abuse they have experienced in the past.

Young people have been talking a lot about feeling "trapped" or unable to escape from abusive situations at home. In some households, the stress of the pandemic has meant that arguments can escalate into domestic or physical abuse. And some children who were already experiencing sexual abuse by someone in their home have talked about this increasing during lockdown.

Helplines insight briefings

We're using insight from Childline counselling sessions and contacts to the NSPCC helpline to highlight the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on children and young people.

Read our briefings on:

You may also be interested in our briefings on:

Related resources

Related resources

Research reports

Over the past 12 months we have produced several reports examining how we have adapted our services to continue to support children and families during the coronavirus pandemic.

> Isolated and struggling: social isolation and the risk of child maltreatment, in lockdown and beyond

> Still here for children: sharing the experiences of NSPCC staff who supported children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic

> Learning from adapting the Baby Steps programme in response to COVID-19

> Delivering our local services to families during COVID-19

NSPCC Learning podcast

Our podcast explores a variety of different child protection issues and invites contributors from the NSPCC and external organisations to talk about what they are doing to keep children and young people safe. We have produced a number of episodes about what we've learnt during the pandemic, including:

> The impact on delivering children's services during lockdown

> Antenatal and postnatal care during COVID-19

> Providing perinatal education during COVID-19 through Baby Steps

> How Childline has been supporting children during COVID-19

You can also subscribe to our podcast through Audioboom, Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Childline

If a child or young person needs confidential help and advice direct them to Childline. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also contact Childline online or read about sexual abuse on the Childline website. You can also download or order Childline posters and wallet cards.

Elearning

We have a range of online training courses for anyone working or volunteering with children and young people.

> See all online training courses

Further reading

For further reading about the coronavirus pandemic, search the NSPCC library catalogue using the keyword "coronavirus" or "social isolation".

You may also be interested in:

> Services for children and families

> Together for Childhood

> Volunteering with families: a rapid review of the literature

If you need more specific information, please contact our Information Service.