Children’s Commissioner
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Help at Hand spotlight: championing the rights of children in care under Covid-19

There are more than 75,000 children in care in England. Although most spent the national Covid-19 lockdown in a place of safety, this stretch of time was not without difficulty. Our ‘Childhood in the time of Covid’ report published on 29th September outlines the many new pressures on social care services during this unprecedented time and how this impacted support available to children. However, these struggles are always best understood through the lens of the children who have had to go through them.

Young person on phone

Below we share some examples from children in care and care leavers who contacted our helpline, Help at Hand. Their situations shed light on the added complications for children who live apart from their families and who rely on state support running smoothly to live their everyday lives.

Face to face time with families

From 23rd March when the national lockdown began, Help at Hand was contacted by families in distress who were suddenly unable to see their children in-person. Often these were children in care under voluntary care orders due to their disability, who were used to frequent family visits and overnight stays at home. Many residential special schools stopped allowing face-to-face visits, moving instead to video calls which can be challenging for children, especially those with severe cognitive processing difficulties. Unfortunately, children with special educational needs and disabilities tended to be more restricted in seeing their loved ones than other children in care, because of their struggles to understand the need for social distancing.

James was living in a specialist children’s home due to his disability under a voluntary care order. Before Covid-19 he was having overnight contact with his family every other weekend and for half of the school holidays. During the lockdown he was not allowed home and could only see his family over Skype. This was really distressing for James and staff saw his behaviour change as his family time was withdrawn.

Adam was receiving palliative care in a specialist children’s home when the lockdown happened. His parents wished to see him on his birthday, especially as they feared this could be his last. The home said this was not possible and had not been open to solutions like his parents wearing PPE or only seeing Adam outside in the garden.

Claire is 2 years old and was living in a kinship placement. Before Covid-19 she was seeing her parents 4 times a week but we heard that this was stopped when lockdown started. Claire’s parents were told they would have to see Claire via video calls instead, even though Claire was too young to properly engage using this technology.

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