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Update for colleagues from Jo Olsson – 21st May

As we move into the next phase of coronavirus (COVID-19), we want to give colleagues a clear overview of the current situation and our plan moving forward. The following is the latest update from Jo Olsson, Devon County Council’s Chief Officer for Children’s Services and Chair of the Devon SCP Executive Group. 

Dear colleagues,

This is my second message on behalf of the Devon Safeguarding Children Partnership.

Firstly, I want to update you on schools. As professionals, as employees and as parents, we all have a keen interest in the plans for schools. Returning to school arrangements are available on the Devon County Council website, and we also issued an open letter to parents about children returning to school.

We are going to live with coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community at least for the medium term. There is a complex mix of needs, rights, vulnerabilities and risks to be balanced in increasing the number of children in school. We will continue to support schools to make the right decisions for children; taking fully into account the welfare of staff and the logistics of making buildings and transport ‘COVID secure’. Schools in Devon will increase the number of children in school in line with Government expectations when it is safe to do so. I am mindful that some schools reported a 40% increase in key worker uptake as partners/family of key workers returned to work last week. Please continue to access the Devon County Council website for information about schools.

Last week, we said we want vulnerable children to be in school, noting the special arrangements for children who attend special schools.

On the 15th May:

  • 36% of children subject of a protection plan were in school (previously 20%)
  • 22% children in need plan were in school (previously 14%)
  • 21% of children in care were in school

The compares very well nationally and is great progress, but, nevertheless, most of our most vulnerable children are not spending time with trusted adults outside of the family. Please keep up the good work of encouraging school attendance for vulnerable children.

I am mindful that schools and Early Years Settings have established a comprehensive safeguarding system for vulnerable children that has served us incredibly well. More of schools’ capacity will be focused on the re-introduction of year groups and the complexities of managing social distancing, infection controls and so on. As a partnership we must not lose sight of the most vulnerable children and we will need to flex our resource to ensure safeguarding gaps do not emerge in this period of change and transition.

Daily triage in Early Help is now in place 7 days a week to ensure we can coordinate and deliver effective and timely support for families. We expect suppressed demand for all services to emerge over the coming weeks and this will put pressure on services. Additional Early Help capacity is being planned to come on stream to respond.

Children under the age of two should not be wearing face masks and masks should only be worn by young children (aged two to five) if there is confidence that it is safe to do so.

Elsewhere, this week’s Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May) serves as a timely reminder that we need to look after our own emotional wellbeing, as well as that of others. The specific theme of the week is ‘kindness’. Of course, being kind is always the right thing to do. Kindness has the power to create community, support and hope; it’s a helping hand that says you’re not alone. So the same question we ask families – ‘what help do you need to get through this?’ – is the one I ask you: ‘what help do you need to get through this?‘ If you need something, to help you continue to help families, please do let us know. And don’t forget to be kind to yourself.

Finally, I am delighted to let you know that Anne Longfield, England’s Children’s Commissioner, visited Devon (virtually) last week to talk to our youth parliament and to our children in care and care leavers about their experiences of lockdown to help her shape her contribution to the national debate. This is quite a coup for Devon and a credit to our young people and the staff who support them, very well done.

Please let me know if there is anything you need from the partnership to help you in your work.

With very best wishes,
Jo Olsson
Chief Officer for Children’s Services (Devon County Council)
Chair of the Devon SCP Executive Group