Mark Denton: 3 min read

Messaging and video…Will the pandemic change Children’s social care forever?

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our ways of working and living in ways we couldn’t have imagined a few short months ago. Some of these changes might be temporary and some of them might become the new normal.

It was not insignificant that when offices around the world suddenly closed, long-term remote working capabilities were collectively and efficiently mastered pretty much overnight. Technical glitches were overcome, gaps in knowledge were filled and alternative approaches to the physical workspace were quickly found - all driven by a previously absent necessity. This en-masse digital upskilling has blown the concept of the traditional workplace out of the water and the knock-on effect will be huge.


There is no disputing that Local Authorities responded to the crisis in new ways and with some amazing innovations. With both positives and negatives to the changes, it will be interesting to see what happens moving forward. 


Traditionally Children’s Social care relies on face-to-face relationships, this has been turned inside out by coronavirus. With the onset of lockdown in March, a whole way of working was turned on its head. Whilst in Adult Services, social care advice and guidance was provided quickly, there was less clarity in guidance for Children’s social care. When a Children's social guidance document did emerge in early April, it was widely criticised for being not detailed enough, and for suggesting that PPE would only be needed when entering households where there were people with clear coronavirus symptoms. Due to the lack of PPE and risks to social workers, Children’s services departments across the country looked to reduce face to face visits unless necessary. Ofsted also relaxed regulations on statutory visits. This meant visits could be moved online, keeping in touch with Skype and Whatsapp. But as the lockdown eases what will the new future hold? 


The changes brought about by the pandemic has made the tough job safeguarding harder. Children have been seen far less by teachers, health workers, children’s centre staff and others who so often pick up the first signs something is wrong. There are concerns that after lockdown there will be a surge of referrals taking a creaking system to breaking point, could the continuation of digital methods to work with Children assist with this? 


Positives from new ways of working 

Back in October last year we wrote an article for Professional Social Work magazine where we looked at the future of social care. In this article, we stated social workers of the future will use more video/audio for telling a client’s story. We are beginning to see this with our ECLIPSE software where social workers can add notes by voice and add photos to add visual detail. This type of multimedia software will become even more sophisticated in the future and the cost of data storage will continue to reduce. The emerging environment will mean many new uses and benefits for technology in social care. 


The new way of working has created some positives. From customers we have spoken to it is clear social care departments are seeing about 30% of work with children via online video tools like Whatsapp, 30% by telephone and the rest face to face due to the urgency of the case. What they have discovered is video and messaging works better and is the preferred method for a large number of Children. Over half of 5-10-year-olds have a phone, with numbers increasing significantly with age. Video is the young people’s normal, they are used to communicating through a screen, and the idea you can’t have a meaningful social care conversation that way now seems so outdated.

Another benefit is that Children can open up more using the medium, they feel more comfortable discussing their feelings in a message or video. 

Access is also improved as the social worker can try different times to reach the child when they are in a mood to open up. Using the traditional model if a child does not want to talk that day then due to the commute times the social worker might not have the chance to try again the next day. 

Whereas feedback from the frontline is that direct interaction with children has been improved by technology, social care meetings like Child protection conferences are less straightforward and can be more confusing and stressful for parents. There is a stronger argument for these meetings to return to how they were previously run. 


Impact of funding

It is likely that although Covid-19 has opened the eyes of the public to the importance of health and social care, the sector will remain underfunded. It is likely Social Care departments in the future will have to look at ways that they can maintain their service at a reduced cost. It could be argued that the use of video messaging and modern communications methods would be one way of saving cost whilst maintaining the service.


All eyes on Ofsted

During the pandemic, what constitutes a statutory visit has been relaxed. the big question about how much of this new way of working will become the new normal will be dictated by the Ofsted rules and regulations once the pandemic is over. 


Will the changes stay or go?

We believe that the pandemic has been a catalyst for new ways of working that are likely to be introduced in the future. We need to learn from the positives and make sure in our rush to return to normal we don’t remove elements that worked and delivered better results. However, in the end, it will be the Government/Ofsted policy that drives how widespread adoption of video in Children Services becomes.