‘Strange, challenging, unprecedented’ are words that have been used to describe the period since COVID-19 has impacted on all of our lives. Difficult enough to understand if you live in a secure family home with no prior needs or experience of disadvantage.
T is 18, shares a bedroom with her Mum, a single parent who survives by working and benefits. Her older sister has had mental health and drug problems, living at home is a trial. T was to have taken A levels. Her mocks, disrupted by family trauma resulted in a C, E and U, against predicted grades of A*, C and C. There is no additional income through occasional shifts in the pub opposite T’s home, there is little or no motivation to continue with her ambition to go to university to study medicine. T is vulnerable and disadvantaged but does not fall within Educational, Health, Care Plan (EHCP) or Free School Meals support or subsidies.
K is 15, with high end physical, cognitive disabilities, and significant emotional needs. During term time K is resident at a specialist school for children identified with autism, two weeks ago whilst travelling to the school her parents were called, the school was to close due to insufficient staff. K is disabled and vulnerable, she falls within EHCP, her support system is located 90 miles from home.
L is 10, a Child Looked After, fostered by a single parent, living in an overcrowded home. The ‘family’ are reliant on benefits and regular support from social services. L’s key worker has been self-isolating for 10 days with no contact with L.
T, K and L share a bond, which makes them vulnerable and disadvantaged – they do not have normal points of reference shared by the majority of the population. Their world is a different world, needing structure and support.
For the majority of children and young people their home provides the benchmark for their lives. COVID 19 has changed the meaning of ‘home’, increasing in significance the provision of shelter, food, safety, personal growth, health, a sense of love and belonging that all combine in developing a core strength within us all. Imagine being T, K or L watching the news, reading social media, seeking support, any structure to their lives has disappeared overnight, all points of reference that help them to understand and communicate have been removed.
This is where schools, third sector organisations (not for profit) and voluntary have stepped in to ensure that all vulnerable and disadvantaged children are given the care needed through our commitment to a shared humanity. Teachers providing daily one to one support, checking that meal vouchers have arrived, there is somewhere to sleep, clothes to wear; in short, there are no physical needs and risks that will cause personal injury or danger generated by themselves or others.
Social media and technology provide an opportunity for groups of children and young people to meet, to have a sense of belonging. T, K and L need support in accessing phones, tablets, and laptops. They need help in using them safely, to participate, to have a sense of connection that is positive in their lives.
Learning has been a central message from government, the internet is full of guidance on how parents and carers can access school and social timetables, T, K and L have a long way to go before this is their priority. Their carers and support networks are faced with the challenge (that word again) of providing new reference points before any form of learning can take place. Physical and emotional security, love and belonging are the priority for T, K and L.
As CEO of a third sector organisation, our priority is to provide a new form of support and infrastructure that helps to guide professionals at a time when their individual strengths, creativity and ability to step into the world of children and young people like T, K and L are most needed.
10 points for educational settings, leaders and teachers to consider:
- How frequently are you in contact with parents, carers and their children?
- How much guidance on structure, food, safety, health and wellbeing have you provided?
- How many staff are engaged in supporting EHCP children and young people?
- How many staff are engaged in supporting disadvantaged children and young people?
- How many children and young people are reported under safeguarding regulations?
- How many staff are engaged in supporting children and young people reported under safeguarding regulations?
- How many children and young people have not been in contact with a teacher since the start of school closure?
- How are these children and young people being tracked? Followed up?
- How are staff responsible for safeguarding, EHCP and FSM being supported?
- How do you know that 100% of your school’s community are safe at this time?
Sonia Blandford CEO Achievement for All 3As www.afaeducation.org