Agenda item

Covid 19 - Impact on Children and Young People

To consider the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children and young people within the borough.


Ms Graham reported that the events of the last 18 months had been unprecedented.  Prior to the first lockdown, which began on 20 March 2020, the service had been encouraging staff to work from home where possible.  Work had previously been normally undertaken on a face-to-face basis and changing this had been challenging.  The full impact of the lockdowns would not be known for some time.  She was mindful that some children had been born during a lockdown and had been deprived of early socialisation, with impacts on the development of language and social skills.  Other children had been affected by mental health issues or bereavement.


Normal Ofsted inspections had not been able take place and temporarily replaced by remote assurance visits to ensure that local authorities were continuing to safeguard and deliver outcomes for children.  Ofsted inspectors were offered to local authorities and Haringey had collaborated with other north central London boroughs to obtain the input of several of them, who had produced a useful report on the impact of lockdown on children. 


It had been known that some families struggled with poverty, including access to digital services, but the number that had been affected had been more than anticipated and not just amongst those known to the Council.  Responses had been required for all children irrespective of whether they had been previously known.  It had been established that food security was also not as strong as previously thought and systems had needed to be put in place to address this, including provision of food parcels.  There were concerns about the level of domestic abuse and it was known that many families lived in cramped conditions.  Poverty and family stress were also major issues and, whilst these were most prevalent in the east, they had also spread to the west of the borough.


Nick Hewlett, Principal Adviser for Early Years, reported that the impact on the youngest children could not be underestimated.  The childcare sector had been massively affected and most childcare facilities forced to close.  Only local authority and a few private nurseries had remained open.  However, the Council had been able to offer childcare to every parent or carer that had asked for it.  Childcare facilities had now re-opened.  There were still the same number of nurseries but not all childminders had survived. Parents had experienced isolation during lockdown and children had been deprived of much of the social interaction that they would normally have.  There was now a major focus on addressing this and especially speech and language development.   An Early Years Strategy was now being developed and these issues would be taken up as part of it.  Children Centres had been able to provide support to vulnerable families throughout the whole of the pandemic.  It was hoped to be able to provide a more extensive offer from the autumn onwards. 


Ms Riordan reported that it had been necessary to embed remote education very quickly after the first lockdown.  Collaborative work with schools had ensured that provision was strong.  The National Foundation for Education Research had estimated that the average amount of learning lost was three months but this was likely to be more for the most disadvantaged of children.  Schools had remained open for vulnerable children and children of key workers.  However, there were difficulties in delivering education in such circumstances such as the need to maintain social distancing and attendance had only been on a part time basis for most.  School attendance levels had been low and Haringey’s figures were in line of those elsewhere.   


A considerable effort had been made to ensure that children had access to laptops and a large number had been distributed.  In addition, a large number of free school meals had been provided, including during school holidays.   There had also been a school holiday and food programme and, in addition, an extensive summer programme was planned for this year.  The government had allocated £1.4 billion for education recovery and this included £1 billion for tutoring, which would be delivered through schools and colleges.


Beverly Hendricks, Assistant Director of Safeguarding and Social Care, reported that there had been a considerable impact on social care.  Initially, there had been concerns regarding vulnerable children not being able to attend hospital appointments and not getting into school.  Work had taken place through Haringey Safeguarding Children’s Partnership (HSCP) to set up systems to provide support. The first three weeks after the initial lockdown had been focussed on ensuring that children had access to basic needs, such as housing and food.  Following this, approximately 1,000 children were identified as requiring particular attention.  A system to monitor relevant data on a daily basis was set up.  Work was also undertaken with HSCP to provide for face-to-face contact by partners of the most vulnerable children and there was collective responsibility for ensuring the children remained safe.  An Early Help Panel was established to target early intervention and a system of daily contact with the most vulnerable families established.  There were a lot of lessons to be learnt from what had happened and, in particular, the need to mobilise quickly.  The response had demonstrated the strength of partnership work in the borough.


The Panel raised the issue of authorisation of school absences of those young people who were clinically extremely vulnerable or had parents who were.  Ms Riordan reported that Education Welfare Officers had been in communication with schools regarding how such absences were marked as many children in such a situation had stayed away when schools had reopened.  The Council had been clear that schools should not be punitive and guidance and support had been provided.  The expectation was that schools would treat each case on its individual merits, with education provided either within school or remotely.  She was happy to take up any individual cases where there had been problems.


Panel Members expressed concern regarding the funding that the government had made available to enable children to catch up on lost learning through the provision of tutoring.  Ms Riordan commented that there were constraints on the use of such funding and schools had to use tutors from an approved list.  Schools were working creatively to make the best use of the funding that was available and to make sure that all children were able to get back on track after the disruptions that had taken place.  She would be able to provide further detail of what was planned by schools outside of the meeting.  In answer to a question regarding the future provision of free school meal vouchers in school holidays, she stated that this would need to be a decision for Members to take.  In particular, funding would need to be identified.  She highlighted the work that many schools were already undertaking through food and toy banks to support the children from the most deprived families in the borough.  The Cabinet Member reported that Cabinet agreed to fund an extension of free schools to defined groups of primary school pupils who were not currently eligible for free school meals from Summer Term 2021 for two years.  More work was required on this issue and it was possible that additional funding would be required in due course.  Due to the impact of the pandemic, there were also more children who were entitled to free school meals than previously.  Further consideration would be needed on the issue as part of the setting of priorities within the Council’s budget. 


Ms Hendricks commented that poverty of experience also needed to be addressed.  A lot of work had been undertaken by the service collaboratively with partner agencies including the voluntary and third sector, such as the Bridge Renewal Trust and the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, to address this at the peak of the pandemic and as part of the easing measures.   This had included a programme of meaningful activities that was offered during school holidays.  In addition, the Virtual School had been expanded to include young people over the age of 16 that had been affected by lost learning.  She agreed to circulate a note to Panel Members providing further detail on what had worked well and where further work was required.


In answer to a question regarding missing children, Ms Graham reported that she was happy to bring a report to a future meeting.  In respect of staffing issues, she stated that there had been nothing exceptional in the levels of staff sickness or leaving the Council.  However, some staff had been ill with Covid or had been required to self-isolate.  Others had suffered bereavements and, in addition, been absent due to other health issues.  Staff were nevertheless tired and this was mirrored amongst partners such as Health and the Police.  It had been particularly hard for staff to get a break during the first year of the pandemic.  Staff had generally shown a high degree of resilience.  Their work was a vocation and staff were committed to the welfare of children and young people. In respect of food poverty, she stated that the Council responded to all families that were referred to them as being in need.  The Cabinet Member stated that there was a need for a long term strategy for food and consideration was being given to this. 


In answer to a question regarding digital safety, Ms Graham reported that every device that was given to children complied with school and Council safety standards.  Ms Riordan commented that schools took the training of parents and carers on cyber security very seriously and the issue was also covered in PHSE classes.  In respect of the physical health and fitness of children and young people, the Panel noted that schools took part in a range of initiatives, such as Run the Mile and the Spring Stride.


Michele Wong, a local resident, raised the issue of ventilation in schools and how this impacted on the transmission of Covid-19, which was mainly transmitted through the air. She stated that there was a build-up of aerosols indoors when windows were closed and there was insufficient ventilation.  In such an environment, there was no safe distance as the aerosols hung in the air and this was particularly true when masks were not worn.  There was a need for frequent changes of air to ensure that schools were safe and most did not currently have the mechanical means to ensure that this happened.   Ventilation was quantifiable and 46 air changes per hour were needed to ensure safety.   CO2 monitors could be used to measure levels.  It would be particularly difficult for schools to remain safe during the winter, when it became too cold to leave windows open.  It would therefore be necessary for schools to have supplementary means of ventilation in place.  Although children were at lower risk from Covid than others in the population, they were at risk of developing long Covid. She felt that current risk assessments were inadequate as they did not provide for input from a mechanical engineer.    She was clinically vulnerable and was there was concern amongst many parents regarding Covid transmission in schools.  It was important that schools protected pupils and staff.    She had already been in touch with Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, and the Assistant Director for Schools and Learning.  It was agreed that Ms Wong’s presentation be circulated to the Panel and that the Assistant Director for Schools and Learning be requested to respond to the points raised within it.




1.    That the Assistant Director for Safeguarding and Social Care be requested to circulate a note to Panel Members providing further detail on what had worked well in the response by the service to the Covid pandemic and where further work was required; and


2.    That the PowerPoint presentation from Ms Wong regarding ventilation in schools be circulated to the Panel and that the Assistant Director for Schools and Learning be requested to respond to the points raised within it.














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