Safeguarding Disabled Young People and their Families during Covid-19

During the current pandemic, there have to changes to support for families and young people.

The information below provides an overview on some of the current issues as discussed by Sarah Goff during our safeguarding in challenging times seminar hosted on Thursday 28 May.

It is important to ask young people how they are feeling.

Talk to young people about how they are feeling. How has the lockdown and the worries of the pandemic impacted them?

Often people focus on talking to parents and forget to talk directly to young people about their feelings, worries and concerns.


The pandemic has not impacted everyone equally

There are intersecting inequalities that impact how individuals and social groups are experiencing the pandemic.

  • How well is food distribution working? This will be especially important for disabled families who are unable to get to the shops and for families who usually rely on free school meals.
  • Access to online support: Many support networks have moved online, but what about families who do not have internet access? It is important to ensure support is available offline as well as online.
  • Parents with learning needs: Parents with additional needs will be finding full-time childcare and pressures of home school even more challenging.
  • Safety at home: For some family’s home is not a safe place and it is important to be aware of communicating with young people, recognising the signs of abuse, and ensuring young people know where they can access support.
  • Housing: Considering how housing may be impacting a family’s experience of the pandemic is important when communicating with young people. Not having access to outside space, not having a table to do schoolwork at etc could be making lockdown challenging.
  • Disabled young people are at greater risk of harm and abuse. We need to focus on preventing harm and abuse, spotting the signs and communicating with young people to understand how they are coping.

The lockdown has had positive outcomes for some young people.

  • Looked after children in foster families may be having a positive experience by finally having some time to settle and getting to know their foster family.
  • For other young people it may be spending time with families who are usually working very long hours.
  • Communicating online means some young people are finding it easier to form stronger relationships with their support workers. This has been especially true for young people at risk of sexual exploitation who were difficult to engage face to face prior to the pandemic.

There have been challenges in supporting young people.

  • For some young people, for example young people with autism, missing the daily routine and additional support that is critical for their wellbeing is making this crisis especially difficult.
  • Some disabled young people may have had their communication tools taken away from them. Schools and day centres have closed, do young people have access to the same tools and resources that are crucial in allowing them to communicate via their preferred method?
  • If support workers are now wearing masks, young people who rely on lip reading skills to communicate will be finding communicating their needs a challenge.
  • If children communicate through signs and gestures rather than verbal words, how well can we understand these at a distance or virtually?
  • How do children and young people let us know if they are worried or unhappy? How can we encourage young people to get in touch?

We need to consider varied communication needs and not presume that people can communicate verbally.

Young People and Schools

Transport services are essential for getting young people to schools and activities, particularly for disabled young people who may have to travel long distances for specialist support. How might transport services resume whilst maintain safety and social distancing?

Some reports suggest that young people are now increasingly speaking out about negative experiences at school. For example, how they have been bullied, how school has been the cause of anxiety and young people have expressed concerns about returning to school. How do we safely manage the transition back into school and respond to these important concerns?


Young Carers

For over 700,000 children who are already young carers, the pressures of lockdown and Covid-19 will bring new challenges.

Local Authorities have a responsibility to support young carers. Young Carers may be caring for siblings or for parents and extended family members.

Reassure young people there is support available. We have put together a useful guide on where to get advice.

Online Safety

Abuse can happen online as well as in person.

Are young people aware of their safety online?

It is important to have conversations with the young people you are working with and to make young people aware of staying safe as they spend more time online.

The NSPCC have some excellent resources to support young people to stay safe online.

Top Tips for working with young people and families

  • Relationships and talking matter most
  • Find out how to communicate directly with the child – ask the young person directly
  • Take time, make time
  • Parents and carers need practical and emotional support
  • Help them build informal networks too
  • Seek out community-based supports


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