By 20 March this year, schools and nurseries in the UK had closed. Since then, a number of experts have voiced their fears for children already known to be vulnerable, as they became less visible.
At-risk children and young people falling through the gaps
The Government had hoped to keep known at-risk children in emergency schools, but attendance has remained low. Local authorities have also reported dramatic falls in the number of children being referred to social services over child protection concerns. As the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, discussed last month, there’s a danger of teenagers in England falling through the gaps in our education and social care systems. While her report said that the DfE, schools, local authorities and police forces need to work together to identify, track, support and ultimately re-engage these children, we understand that local authorities are already overstretched.
Social workers seem to be bracing for a surge in referrals of vulnerable children when schools re-open again, as young people haven’t been seen by professionals such as teachers, who’d normally raise safeguarding concerns. Therefore many local authorities have warned that they’ll struggle to cope with the expected spike in demand without additional support from central government.
Supporting our social care workforce
It’s obvious the pandemic has had a significant impact on our social care workers. Since the crisis began, social workers in many of the local authorities that we work with have worked tirelessly to continue to deliver to those in need, but it has, unsurprisingly, taken its toll on them.
The BASW survey however shows the extent of this with some alarming statistics: a third of social workers are considering quitting the profession in the wake of the pandemic, and 23% are now considering leaving social work based on their experiences of practising through the crisis. Worryingly, 61% said their mental health had worsened as a result of work during lockdown, citing the feeling of isolation and increased workloads as some of the reasons.
Going mobile – tech’s time to shine
During the events of recent months, we’ve seen technology in social care play a crucial role in delivering vital and day-to-day services to the public. COVID-19 has certainly nudged the digital dial forward, and the public sector has embraced new ways to communicate, support, and assist those in need. In particular, mobile case management solutions have helped ensure we keep core services running, and enabled us to protect both our workforce and the public.
Social workers and carers have adapted to using mobile technology during the pandemic, especially in the switch to remote working. With technology playing more of a role in all our lives, and mobile apps increasingly becoming a familiar way to communicate, it’s important we don’t lose the momentum gained during our fight to tackle COVID-19, and continue to support the social work teams doing such important work.
We’ve heard first-hand from the local authorities we work with up and down the country how mobile solutions can really empower social workers - giving them quick access to the right information when away from the office, whether sitting in the car prior to a visit to working directly with people in locations such as their home, a hospital ward or a community centre. Joined-up, modern and structured ways of working result in better informed decisions and mean better outcomes for people and their families.
Moving forward with social care technology
2020 has seen the rate of digital change across the public sector accelerate rapidly, and the increased adoption of technology is enabling much faster rollouts of new systems. Social care is no exception, and we understand that social work teams are working less from an office environment and instead add case notes and complete forms when they’re out and about and in the homes of the people they’re supporting.
User-friendly, intuitive mobile solutions are designed to provide key information to professionals at the point of use, wherever they are. These solutions can help local authorities to deliver more efficient care services, giving them access to records, forms and vital information such as contact details and warnings when and where they need it. Mobile solutions also offer the flexibility to complete documents or forms, such as safeguarding referrals or care plans, via a mobile device. Case notes, forms and next actions can be recorded and synced automatically to the council’s social care case management system, helping to reduce duplicate data entry, saving time and helping to improve working practices.
As a result, social workers tell us they can invest the time they save in what they do best; support people, their carers and their families. As BASW stresses, employers must anticipate and plan for a surge in workload, and the expected increase in demand for referrals to social services and required assessments as lockdown continues to ease requires foresight. Mobile solutions have a role to play in easing the strain on the workforce, helping to overcome short and long-term social care challenges, and continuing to support everyone in need, including those affected by COVID-19.
Social care is facing some of the biggest challenges it has ever seen, but the impact of the pandemic is far from over. As we navigate the difficult months ahead, we’re here to help – working alongside local authorities to keep up the pace of change so we can support the social work teams striving to achieve better outcomes for those that need support.
Let’s keep talking so we can work together to improve digital care right now, when it is needed the most.