Skip to main content

Social workers could be overwhelmed when children return to school

Increased referrals will put services under pressure

Many social workers expect to see an increase in the number of referrals for at risk children following the planned phased return to school.

Responding to BASW’s social work during Covid-19 survey, social workers have highlighted that they have experienced an increased number of ‘hidden’ vulnerable children during lockdown who have been very hard to reach due to social distancing.

The opening of schools may mean more issues are exposed and more referrals subsequently made.

Social workers are key to supporting and safeguarding vulnerable children, but it is essential that services have the right resources to enable them to do this.

Some social workers have responded to the BASW survey, highlighting it as a significant challenge.

Responding to the survey a social worker said: “The rise in safeguarding concerns is yet to come, we will be completely overwhelmed when schools return, and referrals increase”.

Across the four nations of the UK, governments are planning for a phased return to school. The dates of the return, and how the phasing process will work, varies between the four nations[i]. However, social workers across the four countries of the UK share common concerns:

  • Vulnerable children. As children return to school an increase in the number of referrals around vulnerable children is expected. Delivering the best services could be challenging with this sudden influx of additional referrals. This is in addition to the ongoing challenges of seeing children and families in their homes.
  • Social workers are parents too. Many social workers, like any other parents, have been balancing work and supporting children.  They now worry whether it is safe for their child to return to school, particularly children who have underlying health conditions where there seems to be little guidance.
  • Underlying health conditions. Some social workers have underlying health conditions. They worry that while their child may be safe at school, their child may inadvertently be a carrier and jeopardise the health of the parent and for multi-generational families with members of the family having underlying health conditions. Risks for children are low but risks for those family members would increase significantly. 
  • BAME. Many social workers are members of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. There has been a higher level of prevalence of Covid-19 and a higher level of mortality rates among these communities. BAME parents worry that their child may be at risk, or that they as parents might be at risk.
  • The care of children and return to work. In the absence of schools being open full-time, many social workers have been balancing working from home and caring for their children. Some social workers fear this balancing act will get more complex as some employers may expect their employees to return to the workplace. Personal circumstances (e.g. underlying health conditions) will further complicate this. 

BASW responds:

  • It is vital that social services are adequately resourced, and social workers are supported to ensure families and children can be safeguarded.  BASW will continue to call for the right resources to support social workers during COVID-19 and beyond.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for social protection, family support and empowering social work in order to overcome the inequalities and difficulties many families face. BASW will continue to press for a rebalancing of children’s services towards early and comprehensive help with social workers at the heart.
  • This guidance also highlights the support that social workers need to manage the uncertainty of work, as well as the impact on them of Covid-19. BASW will continue to work with governments, employers and regulators to get the support and advice that social workers need.

[i] Notes

Governments across the UK have taken different choices about responding to Covid-19 - and this includes decisions about schools.

  • In England schools will start a phased return for pupils from 1 June. In Scotland schools will return on 11 August, one week earlier than planned for most pupils, while Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) settings will open over the summer. Where it safe to do so and the scientific advice allows, local authorities will also have the flexibility to bring some children back to school in June with a particular focus on those at the key transition points of P1 and S1.
  • In Northern Ireland there is currently not a plan for a return to school before the end of August. In Wales, some schools have been open for children categorised as vulnerable and the children of key workers since the start of the pandemic. There is no date set as yet, for the full return to school.  
  • In Scotland they expect the children to go back to school from 11th August but only spend 50% time in school and the rest would be home schooling. This would make it almost impossible for parents to return to their workplaces.
  • In Wales, some schools have been open for children categorised as vulnerable and the children of key workers since the start of the pandemic. There is no date set as yet, for the full return to school.

Further information