A Devon director of children’s services has spoken of her concern about the impact of the pandemic on families.

Nancy Meehan said the long-term effects of disruption to education and social contact were unknown.

Ms Meehan, director of children’s services for Torbay, said she was concerned about the impact of lockdown on families and the “emotional wellbeing” of children.

She said: “We know they have had a hard time – education has been disrupted, that is really difficult for them, and they are going to have to catch up with what they have missed.

“There has been an impact on emotional and mental wellbeing, in terms of not being able to see their families and friends.

“We don’t know the long-term impact of that, that is something we will be supporting families through.”

Ms Meehan said child protection referrals in Torbay fell during the first lockdown in March, then surged in late May.

Despite the impact of the pandemic, the department has maintained a ‘business as usual’ approach.

It has been carrying out an improvement plan with the aim of turning an Ofsted rating for children’s services in Torbay from ‘Inadequate’ to ‘Good’ by April 2021.

Ms Meehan, who was confirmed as director in February, said the ambition to achieve the ‘Good’ status remained despite the effect of Covid.

Nancy Meehan, director of children's services for Torbay Council
Nancy Meehan, director of children’s services for Torbay Council

The director highlighted a series of positive achievements in recent months.

Fifteen foster places have been approved since April, 17 assessments are ongoing and nine are at an early stage.

The programme to recruit more fosterers has been highlighted as one of the ways the children’s services team is improving outcomes for children.

The increase in places means some children where appropriate can be moved out of residential placements, which are often outside Torbay.

Family surroundings are shown to improve the outcomes for looked-after children, as well as reducing costs.

You can stay up to date on the top news and events near you with DevonLive’s FREE newsletters – find out about our range of daily and weekly bulletins and sign up here or enter your email address at the top of the page.

The number of children in residential care fell in the year to September from 46 to 25.

Other developments including a Learning Academy launched in September providing support for newly-qualified social workers.

The aim is to provide training and experience for starters as well as senior staff, and to develop the next generation of managers.

A national shortage of qualified social workers has led to high numbers of agency staff being employed.

But investment in the workforce has seen that number in Torbay fall from more than 41 per cent in March to 28 per cent in September.

Stability of the workforce is seen as an important element in providing continuity of care for children and families.

Ms Meehan said the aim of the improvement programme to reach a ‘Good’ rating by April 2021 remained its ambition, despite the “challenge” caused by the pandemic.

She said: “I would like us to be ‘Good’ by April 2021, but I would suggest it is going to be a challenge because of Covid to get to that position, but we are striving for it.”

The director added: “We are starting to see some stability for the workforce, which is really important going forward. I think that will start to show some of the improvements.”

She said the department had maintained a ‘business as usual’ approach despite the effects of Covid-19, making sure children and families were visited while observing social-distancing measures.

The first lockdown in March saw court hearings suspended, which meant a delay of several months for final hearings to decide the future of around 20 children.

At the start of lockdown, the teams initially saw a drop in child protection referrals, then a surge in numbers from late May, although the overall rate of children coming into care has not seen an increase.

Ms Meehan said one of the focuses of the department was working with families of “edge-of-care” children, with intensive support to find ways to keep them safe in the community before the situation escalates and they need to come fully into care.

The director said her amibition was for Torbay to be seen as a “family-friendly place to live and grow up”.

The council’s children’s services department was judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2016 and 2018, but a visit earlier this year said services were improving, although change needed to be speeded up.

Inspections by Ofsted – the government standards regulator – have been paused during the pandemic, but are expected to resume in April next year.

The partnership of Liberal Democrats and Independents in control of Torbay Council invested an extra £9million in children’s services after several years of overspending.

Due to savings and action to reduce cost pressures, this year the department is expected to spend around £3million less than its budgeted £47million.

Ms Meehan was confirmed in the role as director of children’s services in February, after joining as deputy in October 2019.

Last week the council announced Jacquie Sims as a new divisional director of safeguarding, bringing experience from similar roles in Cheshire and Staffordshire.





Source link