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BASW England Branch Blog: Esme Daley

The chair of the London Branch reflects on lockdown experiences

Today is the day we’ve been waiting for, when our Prime Minister will again share his ‘roadmap’ of how restrictions will be eased. Many have been waiting for this update to find out whether their children will return to school, if they might have a break abroad this summer and whether they will be able to once again visit family and friends. We have spent many months not knowing, living in hope that there would be some return to the life we knew before. The government’s policy of putting funding into research and rollout of the vaccine programme seems to have shed some light at the end of this particularly gruelling tunnel. 

I wonder if Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdown has left us as a society more used to being in a state of waiting. We are waiting for things to go back to how they were, despite knowing this cannot and will not happen - too much has and will continue to change. Those of us coping well, with job security, financial stability, support networks and family bonds worry for others. We can feel things have become more difficult. The local authority I work for has projected around a 50% increase in referrals of children who need our support once this lockdown ends, and is busily planning to meet this need. We now wait for things to get more economically challenging for all except the most well-off. We continue to acknowledge the burden this places on the emotional wellbeing of our entire nation and we wait for an avalanche of mental health difficulties as a result of lockdown isolations, lives, jobs and homes lost and ongoing anxiety around the virus. 

We deal with huge uncertainty in social work, and we’re used to making decisions using projections, underpinned by our own skill, experience and research. Covid-19 has added another dimension, a state of uncertainty within a structure of wealth and social disparity and ongoing austerity. It has, paradoxically, however, given us some certainty - we know, beyond doubt, things are hugely more difficult for the people we work with; for those who live alone and are vulnerable and isolated, to young children without enough food to eat, and those who are experiencing violence that leaves their own home unsafe. 

Children who have missed out on schooling have been caught up in our uncertainty. Some have very sadly taken away the message that their education is not that important, that it can be interrupted at any point. Many are stuck in homes where violence is expected, where routines and boundaries have been discarded, where the everyday pressures on those who care for them are becoming more extreme. The anger towards our government’s handling of the free school meals programme showed we value children’s right to nutritious food. Do we value education as a fundamental right for children? There are children across the country who have missed out on education in any format; in person or online, for almost a full calendar year. Those children who have lone parents, working parents, limited access to IT and broadband or parents with mental health or learning needs have far more difficulty accessing an often limited online programme. These children who have parents who are not able to provide any support for their education at home have experienced a huge setback they may never truly overcome. I won’t be the first to note that this disproportionately affects disabled and black and minority ethnic children and young people, particularly those in exam years. 

At London BASW we have acknowledged the huge uncertainty caused by this pandemic and resulting lockdowns, the impact waiting has had on the adults and children we work with. We continue to meet together to consider how best to meet that need, how we as an organisation can influence wider policy. We’ve recently been thinking about the Children’s Social Care Review and given our views to BASW England to support wider policymaking. We welcome members from across London to give their views about what is working for people we work with and will be inviting guest speakers to think about how we continue to campaign and make a difference more widely in a virtual world and how we engage with adults, children and young people as social workers. 

Esme Daley, London Branch Chair

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