This morning I read an article on the BBC. The headline read, “Tiny Fraction of ‘at risk’ children attending schools” and my heart sank.
Like most, I’ve come to expect to read upsetting headlines on a daily basis, but the thought of hundreds of our most vulnerable children not ‘showing up’ for school is worrying. Very worrying.
Immediately, my thoughts began to wander – where are the children? What are they doing? Are they safe? Who is checking up on them?
As schools across the country closed their doors they were asked to remain open for vulnerable children and for the children of key workers. The latest data from the Department for Education shows that 29,000 vulnerable children attended school in the week before Easter. Following the Easter break, fewer than 1,500 students attended. This represents less than 5% of the vulnerable and at risk students who attended before the holidays. Where are they and, more importantly, are they okay? Even more worryingly, the true number of vulnerable and at risk children known to Children’s Social Care Services was 723,000 children in 2019. Assuming that some of those children would have been the children of key workers, where are the other 700,000 other vulnerable and at risk children?
Schools are working hard to keep in contact with families. Many are making weekly phone calls, trying every communication method available to them. But it’s hard. There’s only so much a school can do at a distance and under the current restrictions. They are doing the best they can. Innovative, forward-thinking and community-minded schools are involved in huge community initiatives to support struggling families such as providing food parcels and negotiating free school meal voucher on behalf of families among other things. However, they still may not be reaching those most in need of their help and support.
School communities are unique places. Everyone claims to know everything about everyone else in the playground world of School Gate Politics. They don’t. Many parents are proud and don’t want others to know they are struggling. Parents of at risk and vulnerable children are proud too and worried about the stigma of their children being labelled vulnerable or at risk. They don’t want their dirty laundry aired in public. As parents, we all know that raising children is chaotic and scary and that sometimes it’s difficult to cope with it all, but imagine having it broadcast to the world that you are not, or that you cannot cope. Honestly, I’m not sure I would send my children in to school either.
As a former school leader myself I know about vulnerable and at risk children and I know from experience that the old adage ‘no news is good news’ is not true in this situation. At home vulnerable and at risk children can, and do, face sexual, physical or emotional abuse, malnourishment and neglect. Often, for these children, their only safe haven is school where they can access the help and support they, and their families, need. The fact that these children and families have been uncontactable is potentially putting many lives at risk.
As a business who supports struggling families, we are in a position to help individuals, families and schools by providing digitally-delivered interventions and sessions to help those who need it most during the lockdown and beyond.
Working with schools, we are often able to deliver this free of charge and away from the school environment. We have already worked with a large number of schools to add capacity, provide alternative solutions or as an additional resource. We are currently in a position to help more schools support their wider community.
We are able to help find and work with their at risk and vulnerable families outside of the school environment as well as providing additional support for struggling parents and children on an individual basis.
If you are a school in need of additional support, resource or capacity, please get in touch with Julie Ashley-Higgins on 0730 847470 or at email@example.com.
If you are a parent who feels you might benefit from our services, please get in touch with Charlotte Jenkins on 07859 075083 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.