The biggest crisis in our lifetimes

We are talking about little else at the moment, but I am not talking about Covid-19 here and how we keep the most vulnerable in our society healthy and the NHS functioning. I am talking about the crisis our children and families are facing amidst a third lockdown. Once again, and this time with much less of the optimism of lockdowns 1 and 2, they are trapped in their homes exacerbating new worries about unemployment and poverty, home education and sufficiency of digital equipment, and of course the health pandemic. Adults, children and young people are suffering from the lack of social contact, education, stimulation, and dialogue with anyone other than their fellow trapped.

We know that we have one of the best child protection systems in the world and a robust infrastructure of spotting and responding to abuse and understanding children’s needs. But whilst there are many pressures to scale back, not even ‘business as usual’ is enough any longer, as exceptional circumstances require exceptional responses. We have to be more proactive than ever; to persuade and chivvy along our staff, partners, school colleagues to constantly go the extra mile, and encourage those struggling to get in touch and ask for support, and somehow to spot those who are not in a position to do so. At the same time, we worry about our staff and partners and the impact the crisis is having on them. Has everyone had a check in? Have we spent enough time to help new team members settle in? Are we sure our students are learning and our ASYEs supported to become the amazing professionals they have the potential to be? And are each and every one of our leaders allowed some time out too – including ourselves?

We have responded quickly as system leaders, both retaining what we do and building on it. We have set up helplines for parents who need support, issued daily parenting tips, and initiated social media campaigns to promote active play. Our staff have been out there continuing to visit and be visible, our partners have found new ways of keeping in touch with families and our teachers have undertaken doorstep visits. Our schools are constantly adapting to the changing asks of them – juggling face to face teaching, home learning, emotional support and implementing testing regimes. Our partnerships with community organisations are ensuring that volunteers can be ‘eyes and ears’ and easily report any worries or additional support needs for families. Our youth workers are out there trying to spot and support young people whilst at the same time reaching out through virtual groups and conversations. We initiate campaigns to increase digital access to education and we still challenge each other to do better and learn from each other through our regional arrangements.

And yet, we know it’s not enough. The Children’s Commissioner report this week is again highlighting the devastating effect of lockdown on our children’s and young people’s mental health. We are all only too aware of the lifelong impact the disrupted education of our students will have, widening the disadvantage gap we have been working so hard to start closing. It’s a pretty hard job at the moment, but our leadership and its tangible impact has never been more depended upon.

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