Blog: Supporting vulnerable children during Covid-19

Published: 15 May 2020

Blog: Supporting vulnerable children during Covid-19

Churchill Fellow Patrick Branigan works as the development lead for child sexual abuse at the children’s charity NSPCC and describes how he is supporting children during the current pandemic.

"I have learnt a lot about how we can virtually support children and families in the future, and this will have a large impact on my 2020 Fellowship, which will explore public health responses to child sexual abuse" - Patrick Branigan, Fellow

With schools closed, and some support services no longer available, vulnerable children are at increased risk. Across the country, children and families are struggling to adapt to lockdown. Sadly, home isn’t a safe place for every child, and many of the children we work with are feeling isolated and experiencing increased anxiety, emotional difficulties and poor mental health. As the UK enters its seventh week in lockdown, home isn’t a safe place for every child.

Across the whole of my charity, the NSPCC, we are adapting to one of the greatest challenges we have faced in decades, to ensure that we are still here for children.

Children’s services

In less than two weeks, we’ve transformed how we operate in children’s services to make sure we’re still supporting the families and children who need us. We’ve moved from an operating model that focuses on face to face work in our service centres, to a virtual model as all our staff move to home working. This is a completely new way of working for us, and much of the technology that staff are now using to contact children and families had not been used previously in the delivery of our services.

I have been leading on the organisation’s nationwide adaptions of all our child sexual abuse services, which now allow support sessions to continue virtually where safe, appropriate and needed across the UK. I have learnt a lot about how we can virtually support children and families in the future, and this will have a large impact on my 2020 Fellowship, which will explore public health responses to child sexual abuse.

Risks online

The risks of online harm and exploitation of children, who are spending more time than ever online and unsupervised, have increased hugely. It is likely that during this lockdown there will be more youth-produced sexual imagery while young people communicate amongst their peers solely online. Colleagues in the police are already talking to us about an increased demand for help. In the last week alone, over 2,500 NSPCC Keeping Children Safe Online booklets have been requested and sent out to our service centres, to be disseminated through their local contacts, community organisations and food banks. I have even approved putting them directly into food parcels in Liverpool.

I have also spent the last two weeks adapting our In Ctrl preventative sexual abuse service, so that it can be delivered virtually during lockdown – and potentially afterwards. The original In Ctrl programme adopted a holistic approach that included supporting children’s offline relationships and emotional wellbeing. It also involved helping parents to gain understanding of the potential risks that exist for children online and help them to provide the guidance, support and protection children need. The aim of the project was to help build children’s digital resilience while increasing parents’ knowledge and confidence to support and protect their children.

The original service was developed and feasibility tested as a group-work programme. But due to the lockdown, the programme has been rapidly reviewed and adapted to work on a one-to-one basis and tailored to the needs of the individual child and parent. It launches across the UK from our sexual abuse service centres from 18th May 2020.

You can download the NSPCC parent and child online safety booklet here

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