Charities call for a children’s ‘safety net’ during the coronavirus crisis

27 March 2020

Pandemic will have ‘serious impact’ on many young people, charities warn

PA

MUCH more needs to be done to protect children during the coronavirus crisis, a group of children’s charities has warned.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the heads of 11 charities and advocacy organisations urge the Government to ensure that “no child is left without a safety net”.

The charities acknowledge the Government’s efforts to protect the jobs and the financial well-being of parents. But they say that much more needs to be done over the coming weeks and months to keep children and young people safe.

The message has been signed by the chief executives and directors of the Children’s Society, Action for Children, Children England, UNICEF UK, the NSPCC, the Child Poverty Action Group, the National Children’s Bureau, Children’s Rights Alliance for England, Just for Kids Law, the Family Rights Group, and Become.

The charities are particularly concerned for those at risk of abuse or neglect, and those with special educational needs. Support must be found, they say, to provide help for mental health and well-being, particularly in the context of school closures and pressure on health services.

Their key concern is the strain that will be put on families by financial insecurity and poverty; and also that, during the emergency restrictions on movement, “no child is left at risk or unnecessarily criminalised”.

They conclude: “We continue to do all we can to support the collective effort to face this challenge and to ensure the social and economic effects of the coronavirus are not felt in the lives of our children in the years ahead.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking in House of Lords on Thursday of last week, expressed similar concern that vulnerable children would be cast adrift by the school closures. “For many children in the most deprived areas, school is where they get not just education but food. . . What can the Government offer to enable free school meals to continue during the gap?” he said.

The Church of England’s chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, posted on Twitter last week that he was grateful for assurances from the Education Minister, Baroness Berridge, that the most vulnerable children and children receiving free school meals would be supported in “real and practical ways”.

He thanked teachers and education leaders who “continue to work tirelessly to support the whole country” by enabling key workers to keep working. “You are hugely valued and appreciated,” he said.

There are one million students in 4644 Church of England schools. Many staff prepare for the school closures last Friday by making plans to teach pupils online.

In Chichester diocese, where about 37,000 children attend 155 church schools, education staff have been organising to accommodate vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.

The assistant director of education, business development and management for the diocese, Lesley Hurst, said last week: “The leadership and the uncompromising commitment of the staff teams within our schools has been a genuine source of inspiration.”

Events in Carlisle diocese this week are typical of elsewhere in the country. The diocesan director of education, Vanessa O’Dea, said: “We will be doing all we can to provide extra resources for our pupils and staff at this time; with new website resource pages already added, which will be further updated in the coming days.”

The BBC and several charities and education firms are offering online resources. The National Literacy Trust has launched an online zone for parents looking for ideas and activities.

The Scout Association is offering ideas for 100 free indoor activities, games, and craft activities online. The Chief Scout, Bear Grylls, said that he hoped it would help them to channel their energy “in a positive way”.

A level and GCSE exams for this year have been cancelled. The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has said that the Government will work with schools, colleges, and the exams regulator Ofqual “to ensure children get the qualifications they need”.

Pupils who cannot sit exams will be given grades based on teacher assessment and evidence of internal assessment, such as mock exams, which would be checked by exam boards. Mr Williamson hoped that results would be available by August. Questions continue to be asked about university entrance.

The British Psychological Society’s Division of Educational and Child Psychology has published a series of tips for schools and parents. It says that children can sometimes believe that they are responsible for events beyond their control, and suggests that parents and carers reassure them that it is the job of adults to keep them safe.

An enterprising priest has been filmed conducting an assembly over his garden fence. The Revd Philip Hawthorn, Rector of St Mary’s, Charlcombe, with St Stephen’s, Bath, lives next door to St Stephen’s Primary Church School.

The school is currently looking after 17 children whose parents are key workers. A film of Mr Hawthorn is circulating on Twitter, showing him at the top of a ladder leant against his fence, taking an assembly with his guitar.

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