Waving not drowning

Blackburn with Darwen (BwD) has found itself in the media spotlight recently. The high rates of transmission of the virus in the borough have challenged us all to implement further actions to reverse this trend so that we don’t face another lockdown. As the rate of infection has risen and our access to the data has become more useful, we have been able to see that the virus, at this moment in time, is having a bigger impact on our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. Our Director of Public Health (DPH), Professor Dominic Harrison, has been clear throughout the pandemic that existing health inequalities, poorer quality housing and lower pay are all contributory factors that make children, young people and families more vulnerable to the virus. These inequalities have only been amplified for children and young people during the lockdown.

Having experienced the gradual relaxation of the restrictions that we have been living with I want to stress the importance of an effective outbreak management action plan that puts children and young people at the centre. Like our DPH, I also want to stress the importance of not blaming anyone for a global pandemic, including children and young people!

This includes the children and young people who in June and July have started to return to school, play or socialise. We are all concerned about the impact of the virus but I have found myself challenging critical comments about children who have been observed on the streets playing together and young people being seen to be meeting up with each other without the necessary social distancing. The impact of the virus on children and young people seems particularly severe.

High quality early years provision, school, play and friendship are as important for children as having an effective health service and functioning economy for us all. In the pace and complexity of responding to a local outbreak, it isn’t enough to remind colleagues and partners about the needs of children and young people.

My reflection on the role that I should play in my Local Authority Local Outbreak Management Board is to represent the children and young people of the borough. I have done this by working with and enhancing our existing partnership structures. Our termly School Improvement Board which co-ordinates school improvement activity through system leadership was “stepped up” to meet every week from 22 April. This has allowed us to engage our schools in planning for the lifting of lockdown and the reopening of schools from September. I have also asked our Children’s Partnership Board and Corporate Parenting Board to focus on how we mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on all of our children and young people.

Earlier this year, a third sector consortium was successful in securing a Department for Education funded holiday hunger scheme which went live in the borough on 3 August. I understand parental anxiety and the restrictions that containment brings but we can’t have children being confined to their homes when, if properly risk assessed and with the right protocols in place, they could be taking part in positive activities. In addition to this, the summer scheme provides a lunch which is important for the 60% of children in BwD who are now living in poverty.

As we implement plans for recovery and for the management of local outbreaks, key to this balancing act is to work closely together with children, young people and parents/carers in tackling this international pandemic at a very local level, and taking time wherever possible to do with and not to.

We have also had to go back and prioritise our service for those children and families who we have risk assessed as needing face to face contact. This includes all initial assessments, Section 47s and statutory visits across the service for children and families where we have the highest level of concern. Added to this, we have maintained our summer delivery scheme, albeit restricted and risk assessed to ensure that we are Covid secure. The staff and our colleagues in schools and education settings have been amazing in developing, implementing and then reviewing these risk assessments all in an effort to keep children and young people at the heart of our service.

As a Director of Children’s Services, I have worked very closely with our DPH and their team, as well as benefitting from the hard work and support of colleagues from across the Council and the wider community. Our next steps involve building a resource that can support the borough to manage the impact of the virus through our local Outbreak Management Board and our responsibilities for test, trace and isolate. As Professor Dominic Harrison, BwD’s DPH, informed us by referencing Sheriff Body from the film JAWS: when the Sheriff saw the shark up close for the first time, he said “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” If we are to avoid a long running sequel then the need for adequate resources to tackle this menace effectively at a local level is a necessity.



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