Speaking about the challenges of keeping vulnerable children safe during the Pandemic, Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People said,
“These are incredibly worrying times, not least for children who need more physical, social and emotional support. Their reality ‘post pandemic’ may well not be the hazy memories of parents spending more time at home and playing for endless hours, which is being portrayed in the ‘what we will remember when this is all over’ videos on social media.
“We will cope with this pandemic by keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe and also by looking after our frontline key workers so that they can care for those who need it, keep us safe and make sure we are able to get essential supplies.
“It is apparent that we have not abandoned our humanity and we can see the commitment to children and young people from across Northern Ireland. I congratulate the education authorities who, with support from the Department for Communities, have ensured that children on free school meals are receiving support quickly and efficiently.”
Children of key workers and other groups of children, young people and families, will continue to require care and education outside of their homes.
The Commissioner continued, “Firstly, those children who are vulnerable such as those living in adverse circumstances or known to social care agencies. Many families are struggling and require additional support from a range of agencies. Schools and social care agencies provide essential services and in many cases, are literally providing a lifeline to children and young people. The need to maintain ‘social distancing’ and to stay inside can exacerbate tensions. ’Socially vulnerable children and young people’ must still receive these services albeit in different ways.
“Secondly, are children with a range of disabilities or special educational needs, particularly those children attending special schools. Again the current restrictions are placing further stress on families as they struggle to meet the needs of all their children and provide the best care (including education, medical and physical therapy) for their children with special needs. Too many families were exhausted before the COVID19 crisis – we have a responsibility to support them and not to add to their stresses.
“Staying at home and in isolation can place an enormous strain on families, and I share the concern of others that it runs the risk of increasing vulnerability not only during the crisis but for many years to come.”
The Commissioner highlighted the new challenges that faced the maintenance of essential education and child care services, she said, “These inevitably have to be delivered in different ways than they were ‘pre-pandemic’. No school, child care centre or service should open unless a thorough risk-assessment has been undertaken and appropriate mitigation measures have been implemented.
“Such measures will have to include the availability of personal protection equipment (PPE) for children and staff, particularly in special schools where children require a range of physical care. Schools have, for many years, worked in partnership and I am pleased to see that this has continued into this crisis period. They must be supported and clearly guided by the Department of Education, Education Authority and supporting bodies to implement a safe environment for staff, the children of key workers and the most vulnerable children and families within our communities.
“Each Area Learning Community will have their own solutions – they know their children and families better than anyone else but they must be properly supported to meet the needs of those children and young people. I am heartened by the response to the establishment of education hubs that have been proposed.
Koulla went on to acknowledge that services in place for children, particularly key workers’ children, cannot be a weekday or term time arrangement and further support will be needed from those outside the formal education sector.
“It is difficult to ask workers to go out and engage directly with people when many of us are keeping our distance and working from the comfort of our own home.” Said the Commissioner.
“However, as we know, sadly not every home is a safe place for our children particularly when it is the only place available. Importantly some teachers, social workers or childcare workers may not be able to work outside their home in this crisis and there is important work for them to do to ensure that our children where possible, are educated and cared for remotely and effectively. There are groups of children and young people who will continue to require an element of physical contact and care and for these children, we must also find an appropriate way forward.
“Before the crisis in Northern Ireland there were
“These thousands of children needed our help before the crisis, they need our help even more now.”
Notes to Editors
[i] DoH, (October 2019), Children’s Social Care Statistics for Northern Ireland 2018/19
[ii] DoH, (February 2020), Quarterly child protection statistics for Northern Ireland October – December 2019
[iii] DoH, (October 2019), Children’s Social Care Statistics for Northern Ireland 2018/19
[iv] CYPSP, (June 2019), Family Support Hub Annual Report Card (2018/19)
[v] DE, (March 2020), School enrolment – school level data 2019-20