The pandemic has had an adverse impact on all children. That has been more severe for those with special needs but an almost forgotten group of especially vulnerable children are those who experience abuse and neglect. The latest volume of reports from the Child Care Law Reporting Project contains a number of reports detailing the impact of the pandemic on them.
There were cases where assessments of both children and parents, essential to aid decision-making by the court, had to be cancelled or curtailed
The coronavirus led to the disruption of the work of the courts which, despite the best efforts of the Courts Service and the judiciary, resulted in a number of adjournments and therefore delayed decisions, inevitably detrimental to children in interim care. Where cases are heard, they reveal additional problems faced by vulnerable children as a result of the pandemic. They include instances where children ended up in hospital with severe infection from head-lice infestation, reductions in access for parents with their children in care, and restrictions on addiction and therapy services for parents.
The disruption of access was a major issue for many parents. Some foster carers expressed concern about allowing access in cases where they, or a member of their household, were at risk from Covid-19. There were cases where assessments of both children and parents, essential to aid decision-making by the court, had to be cancelled or curtailed. Inability to attend school for lengthy periods is likely to have increased the isolation of vulnerable children and heightened the risk of serious neglect going unnoticed.
The impact was also seen in less direct ways, as parents with addiction or impaired mental health – resulting in their children going into care – found it more difficult to access services that could help them overcome their problems and seek reunification with their children. The special vulnerabilities of these children must not be forgotten. Early vaccination of frontline child protection social workers and foster parents with exceptional health problems, and imaginative solutions to the isolation of vulnerable children unable to go to school, should be prioritised.