News | Published April 08 2020

“It puts children at greater risk”: WillisPalmer CEO discusses the impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable children

It suffices to say that long before the outbreak of Covid-19, children have been at risk of abuse and neglect. Safeguarding against this is an essential service which, in the view of Mark Willis, CEO of family assessment services provider WillisPalmer, cannot be put on hold or carried out from home. In conversation with The Parliamentary Review, Willis discusses how coronavirus is hampering these services and putting vulnerable children at further risk during times of lock-down.

“Children are at risk of abuse and neglect regardless of the outbreak of COVID-19”, Willis said. “In fact, vulnerable children are at greater risk during the current climate.

“Safeguarding is an essential service which cannot be put on hold or carried out from home and, as social work is such a critical sector, WillisPalmer is committed to continuing to provide our services and support our colleagues in local authority front-line teams during this time, assisting in cases wherever possible.”

According to Willis, there has been a rise in referrals regarding instances of domestic abuse, which have taken place since the UK lock-down was enacted.

“Team managers have informed us about a rise in such referrals,” Willis explained. “Mental health problems will likely be exacerbated, and front-line teams are operating on skeletal staff in places while social workers with underlying health conditions are forced into self-isolation. All of this just adds to the problem.”

Willis then turned his attention to reports concerning a rise in the number of children living at home while care proceedings are taking place, another condition coming about as a result of the lock-down.

“With courts and authorities relaxing timescales in order to manage during the outbreak, children who are likely to be removed from their parents are remaining in the home environment for a longer period of time and, therefore, being put at greater risk.

“Furthermore, families wanting to avoid contact with children’s services are potentially using the virus as an opportunity to evade social workers under the guise of adhering to government guidance. This is a very worrying time for the safety of vulnerable children”.

With these issues in mind, Willis believes that the lock-down can not wear on for more than a matter of weeks.

“We cannot justify a lengthy lock-down period in terms of months,” Willis said. “It will do more damage than the virus is doing.

“There is a real risk that children are being left in dangerous situations for much longer than they should be, and we need to think about the long-term damage that this will cause both economically and socially.”

WillisPalmer, which is a leading provider of multi-disciplinary services and a provider of expert social workers and psychological professionals, will continue to provide services during the pandemic, with its team of professionals being updated to operate under new government guidelines at least weekly.

Discussing the measures WillisPalmer has taken to continue operating, Willis said: “We have produced a risk assessment matrix so professionals can ascertain whether home visits are feasible. We have also extended our timescales to 12 weeks so that we can begin the assessments using technology and then towards the latter part we can undertake home visits or observations presuming the restrictions have been lifted.”

However, in spite of all WillisPalmer’s pro-activity, Willis believes that front-line social workers will still be left with much to contend with as long as a clear exit strategy from the government is not forthcoming.

“With businesses closing, this could result in mass unemployment following the Covid-19 pandemic which results in families being plunged into poverty”, Willis said.

“We know there is a link between poverty and child abuse which will place further pressures on local authority children’s services departments.

“While we will assist local authorities with cases in a bid to alleviate the caseload of front-line social workers, the country needs to see a clear exit strategy urgently,” Willis concluded.

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The Parliamentary Review

April 08 2020

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