Unsung Heroes: Children’s Social Care – social workers, foster carers, residential staff and safeguarding hubs

They have been the one unchanging feature in a period of great uncertainty for children, young people and their families over the last seven weeks, providing a reassuring and calm presence.

Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children whether those in care in foster homes or children’s residential homes, or those who are vulnerable at home, has been even more critical since coronavirus began.

Unable to go to school, see their friends or take part in their usual hobbies and clubs, children have been adapting to a huge change in their lives amidst the stress and anxieties of coping with the unknown around Covid-19.

For children and young people, particularly those with complex needs, the challenges involve getting into new routines and activities.

For staff, many have had to navigate around virtual meetings either with families or between families, with their colleagues and with medical staff in efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus.

At children’s residential homes, young people and staff have been busy taking part in a range of activities like Bake Off competitions, board game tournaments and garden sports.

And with some staff self-isolating, managers have gone ‘back to the floor’, becoming part of the main shift rota.

Debra, the residential manager at two of the homes, said:

“Some of our children have complex needs and don’t understand why their routines have changed so much.

“Staff recently had to undertake several stays at the hospital helping to support one of our children – explaining to them why all the doctors and nurses were in masks was a challenge.

“Everyone has their anxieties but we’re trying to keep a positive attitude around children and staff, and be supportive to each other, letting them know we can get through this crisis together.”

For children with autism, activities have involved more sensory play and garden projects.

Karl, the residential manager at a different home, has also been working shifts.

He said:

“It’s a big change for the team and our young people who have stopped having physical contact with their families and are unable to get to do their hobbies and interests outside.

“Everyone’s been working hard to be creative, making fun and entertainment. We’ve purchased garden games like cricket and boules, and board games and the young people are cooking left right and centre.

“One young person has cooked over half of the evening meals for everybody.

“For young people, Covid-19 is a scary situation and being forced to stay in the same building, there’s the potential for frustration but they have adapted extremely well – I can’t praise them enough for that.”

Sian, the residential manager at another home in the county borough, said young people had held their own Bake Off and Connect 4 competitions as well as enjoying barbecues, taking part in bush-tucker trials, paramedic practice and walks close-by.

Meanwhile, in a different part of the local authority, social workers are playing a vital role in the county borough’s safeguarding of vulnerable children, answering the phones and taking emergency calls.

Michelle, a senior social worker, said:

“It’s really difficult times, our main challenge is making sure our children are safe and those children who need care and support continue to receive it.

“Those who are vulnerable are now at home every day in isolated situations.

“We are doing the best we can – court hearings are done remotely and between visits of those who need it, video calls are being undertaken with families.”

Alex, a social worker in the children disability and transition team, said:

“Our way of working has changed dramatically.

“Many of the children on our caseload have complex health needs which means they’re completely shielded.

“Face to face contact is limited – we are trying to make sure their needs are met and support our parents and carers as much as we possibly can.

“Work is really stressful at times, many of us are missing being in the same offices as our colleagues for moral support. We have virtual meetings but they’re not the same.”

And Rosie, a social worker for children with complex needs, said:

“We usually do a lot of visiting, signposting, speaking to other professionals and going out to the schools to see the children and check if they have the right support.

“We’re generally the face for families to come to if they need support.

“We’re unable to help them in the same way at the moment which is very frustrating – we’re calling families who say they’re doing ok but they’re missing a face.

“I have known quite a lot of the families for years – I can tell by their voice if they’re coping or not.

“Right now, many are having to cope on their own with children who have very complex needs.

“These are children who go to specialist schools with routines being set in stone, they haven’t got the understanding why they can’t go to school or go out as much.

“Even though the stress has been heightened, families have been really resilient. I’m really proud of them.”

The Bridgend Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) which provides safeguarding in the county borough is also open as usual, receiving any safeguarding concerns across a range of areas.

The Bridgend MASH is made up of a number of teams such as those from children’s and adult social services, South Wales Police public protection unit and early help services.

Finally, foster carers in the county borough have been experiencing a huge change to their day-to-day roles.

Becky and Peter are foster carers for two children with disabilities and special needs. They also have three birth children.

Becky said:

“It’s been a massive change, incorporating home-schooling and having medical appointments with different specialists online and daily therapies in the house rather than attending them.

“We’re also helping to deal with their anxieties and fear, the children are going through a form of trauma, not being able to see family members is quite hard to deal with. It’s quite a minefield.

“Regular contact is so important for them – we’ve been promoting the contact where we can and doing video calls for the families but no physical contact is extremely hard.

“We are just trying to look after everybody’s self-esteem, helping to give them a calm, comfortable and safe home, and reassuring them, letting them know that their families are our families and they’re very much in our lives.

“It’s about offering consistency – letting them know that although the world has changed, we are still very much the same.”

Ian who is a foster carer for three children with his wife Lynda said challenges had involved home-schooling and managing their boredom and frustration.

He said:

“All the routines in life have disappeared – they’ve missed out on two cub camps and a week of intensive swimming lessons.

“Everything else in their world has crashed around them, they haven’t seen their friends for eight weeks, they haven’t been to school and they’re restricted to how often they can go out.

“We are the one constant for them.”

The couple are also foster liaison carers helping around 25 other foster carers in the county borough with advice, guidance and support.

The Leader, Cllr Huw David, said:

“Our staff and foster carers have been doing an incredible job during this uncertain and extremely challenging time.

“They have held everything together while maintaining care and support for our young people, coming up with all sorts of creative ideas to keep children positive and occupied, as well as helping to educate them and reassure those who are anxious.

“We can’t thank them enough.”