Agenda item

Covid-19 Update

For the Select Committee to receive a presentation from the Director of Children’s Services, providing a further update on the impact and response to the Covid-19 pandemic on children and young people. (to follow)


The Committee received a presentation from the Director of Children’s Services providing an update on Covid-19 in relation to different Service areas (Item 6 in the Minute Book) following on from the update received by the Committee at their July meeting. 


In relation to Children’s Social Care, the Committee were reminded of the three phased approach which was detailed on page 4 of the presentation slides, and Members heard that the service was now delivering 90-95% face to face visits with children and families, as well as face to face assessments.  It was noted that appropriate Covid safety measures were being implemented when doing so, as well as the use of PPE equipment where necessary.  It was explained that all children within the service would receive a face to face visit by the end of September.  Officers also drew Members attention to the importance of staff being brought together in a Covid secure way to ensure emotional support and wellbeing amongst staff and their peers.


Page 5 of the presentation slides detailed the month on month comparisons for referrals, and the complexity of recent work in relation to neglect and child abuse was explained.  Figures showed an increase in children subject to child protection plans as well as an increase in children in care, and it was explained that these numbers may continue to rise for some months to come.  Close working with partner agencies and schools to ensure vulnerable children attended school during lockdown was also highlighted.  Page 8 of the presentation slides detailed how the service would respond as the Covid situation evolved, which included the establishment of multi-agency hybrid meetings for families, examining ways to enable staff to work at Covid secure offices and enabling staff to have Covid secure face to face contact with peers.


An update on Education and Inclusion was presented to the Committee and Members heard that over the summer holidays, work was undertaken with schools to implement hygiene advice, staggered school start and finish times and the creation of ‘bubbles’ within schools.  Work was also done to ensure that initial classroom-based lessons were at the right level for children, assessing where children were with learning as well as a focus on wellbeing.  It was heard that in relation to attendance, Hampshire was performing well. 


In relation to GCSE and A-levels, it was heard that over the summer, students and parents had had access to careers services which had offered guidance, and colleges and universities had worked hard to ensure most students had a college or university place of their choice.  Members attention was drawn to page 13 of the presentation slides which highlighted positive case management.  It was heard that currently there were 2/3 positive Covid cases a day in Hampshire schools affecting both students and staff and the school improvement team work closely with Headteachers and public health in supporting the school and ensuring affective isolation of the right students, as well as handling media enquiries.  Officers also highlighted the work involved in preparing schools for remote learning if bubbles have to self-isolate, and drew attention to a DfE scheme which would ensure any disadvantaged children in that bubble would have access to a laptop within two days to assist with remote learning.  Members heard that there were a number of services such as specialist teacher advisors and education psychology which were now back in schools and providing face to face services in a Covid secure way.  It was noted that there would be a focus on vulnerable students and persistent absence, and Members were updated with current figures which highlighted that 90% of primary children with a social worker were now back at school.  Work involved with recovery curriculum and catch-up strategies were explained and it was noted that £350 million was being made available to schools in Hampshire to assist with catch-up.  Members also heard that the government were funding a wellbeing programme throughout all local authorities and Hampshire would receive £190,000, and further details in implementing this were explained.


Officers provided details around Home to School Transport, and it was explained that DfE guidance for this was issued on the 11 August which only provided a short timeframe to implement this for the re-opening of schools and colleges in September.  It was noted that additional funding from government had been given to provide additional buses, double running routes and enhanced cleaning and risk assessments.  Members heard that a rapid, flexible approach had been implemented by the department and daily meetings were held in case arrangements needed to be flexed.  Members attention was drawn to page 18 of the presentation slides which detailed key headlines, which included 383 double runs agreed as well as 221 parental mileage allowances agreed in place of commissioned transport.


An update on Early Years was also provided to the Committee and it was heard that there were no sufficiency issues to report. Members noted that 99% of group settings were now open with attendance at almost pre-Covid figures.  It was explained that in relation to out of school childcare, challenges were still presenting in this area in relation to risk assessments and outside companies delivering this service on school sites, but ongoing support was being offered to this sector.  


In response to questions, Members heard:

  • That it was important that managers ensure staff take leave and time off in lieu, as well as supporting staff to manage home/work balance.
  • That throughout July and August there had been an increase in work in the children and families service area, and contingencies have been put in place to support this financially which has included keeping on agency staff where needed. 
  • That an increase of referrals was seen at the start of September which coincided with the return to school, and it was explained that this could be linked to family breakdowns during lockdown.  Unemployment and adult mental health could also be linked in some cases.
  • That digital interaction may stay in place in some instances going forward, but it was important to maintain some face to face visits with children, families and social workers.
  • That there has been an increase in foster carer enquiries during the pandemic, which could be explained by people having time to reflect on their life and ways they can offer help to others.
  • That in relation to waiting times for EHCP’s, it was confirmed that approximately 150 EHCP’s were now being completed a month, and by the end of September the backlog of these should be cleared.
  • That there have been issues with parents congregating at school gates in groups, and school communications were ongoing with parents to prevent this occurring.
  • That as well as schools being able to offer disadvantaged children a laptop in the occurrence of a sudden switch to remote learning, schools would also be able to provide a dongle too if required, which would ensure broadband access.
  • That there have been issues with teachers having to wait a few days for Covid test results, and it was explained that in such instances some teachers have continued to teach remotely from home to a classroom of children, with additional support staff in the classroom with the children.
  • That the DfE has provided information to schools which in turn has been provided to parents, on the differences between the symptoms of Covid and the common cold. 
  • That with regards to free school meals and voucher scheme, children who were eligible for these were receiving these in lockdown, but it was doubtful whether this would be provided in half-term.
  • That evaluation of different working practices would be undertaken at the end of the pandemic, and lessons learnt so far would feed into the forthcoming months.
  • That a blend of different teaching approaches has been proven to work well for remote learning, with a mixture of project-based work and also teacher led remote teaching.
  • That every school in Hampshire has been given an allocation of 10 Covid tests they can use for teaching staff, with schools being able to request another 10 tests every 21 days.
  • That as home to school guidance was not issued by the government until mid-August, this presented challenges in the issuing of bus passes, number of buses needed and determining of routes.  It was explained that parents and schools had received correspondence to explain that children could still use buses if there was a delay in receiving their pass, and operators were also aware.
  • That parental mileage allowances were optional and for parents who don’t take up this offer for their children, transport was provided as well as passenger escorts if needed.


The Chairman thanked Officers for the presentation and extended the Committee’s thanks to all staff in Children’s Services for their ongoing hard work during the Covid pandemic.




That the Children and Young People noted the update provided in the presentation.

Supporting documents: