To consider the report of the Interim
Corporate Director Education.
Consideration was given to the report of the Interim Corporate Director Education and the Safeguarding in Education Manager which was presented to provide Members with the opportunity to scrutinise the Local Government Education Services Safeguarding Policy following its annual review.
The Safeguarding in Education Manager spoke to the report and highlighted the following updates to the policy:-
· Reference to Wales Safeguarding Procedures 2019, replacing previous reference to All Wales Child Protection Procedures 2008;
· Inclusion of the Blaenau Gwent Youth Service safeguarding policy in appendix 3 of the policy;
· Inclusion of the safeguarding data collection protocol; and,
· Inclusion of a COVID-19 annex to reflect the current situation and reinforce the procedures for reporting concerns. This appendix can be updated regularly as the emergency situation develops and changes.
A Member raised concerns regarding the pressure on home life such as financial issues, job losses etc. and the changing dynamics at home with many parents homeworking. He enquired how feedback from these situations could be captured as this could lead to future increases in children looked after. The Service Manager, Children’s Services reassured Members that those referrals with safeguarding concerns, i.e. child protection, abuse or neglect, regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic were responded to appropriately, and for those children who were at home because of the lack of school provision nothing had alerted the local authority to any safeguarding concerns.
The Member referred to the wider implications of safeguarding and how the stresses of the workplace going into the family home were affecting children’s lives in general. The Service Manager, Children’s Services said that additional funding via the Child Development Fund had been made available and was specifically targeted at those children that had suffered as a result of COVID-19, either educationally, emotionally or through holistic well-being. The Directorate would be looking at these cohorts of children in conjunction with Families First and Flying Start. There would be an opportunity to look at statutory settings as well. The additional funding would help explore what alternative support could be put in place for those children who may have suffered at a lower level, through non attendance at school and through the social isolation they may have experienced while schools were closed.
A Member raised concerns regarding increased COVID-19 rates and protecting school staff, some were waiting up to one week for results, whilst remaining in school looking after pupils. He enquired if there was a way to ensure school staff had regular testing similar to staff in care homes. The Director of Social Services said that over the last week the rate was down to 83 per 100,000 so there was progress in reducing the rate in communities. In relation to the UK portal people may not be able to access tests locally and discussions were being held with the Welsh Government to find a solution. A further lab in the Newport area to enable an additional 20,000 tests per day to be carried out was being developed to come on line in November. Many people, not just in Education but across Council services would need to stay at home whilst awaiting test results. This issue existed across the UK and until test results could be turned around within the 72 hour target then there would be issues throughout the winter period.
Councillor Tommy Smith left the meeting at this juncture.
A Member commented that whilst he supported the policy he had concerns regarding the COVID-19 Annex in relation to the mixed messages parents received regarding isolation of children with siblings who attended a different school. He enquired if clear information could be relayed to parents to enable them to make appropriate decisions to protect their children without the fear of repercussions. The Director of Social Services said there had been confusion regarding mixed messages across the UK, he clarified that if a child tested positive then that child needed to self-isolate and stay off school along with any siblings. If a child had been in contact with someone who in the school was positive then that child would have to self-isolate but their siblings would not, so a contact of a contact did not need to self-isolate and could continue to attend school. This was national advice and guidance, however, he accepted parental decisions if parents had concerns with their children attending school during the pandemic.
The Member reiterated that the Council should relay to parents that if they had any concerns or doubts they should take appropriate action without the fear of repercussions. He felt that this would give parents an element of self- choice. The Interim Director of Education said that the Directorate liaised with Environmental Health colleagues when a positive case had been identified and clear advice was given to the family and was also followed up by the Test, Trace and Protect element. In relation to non- attendance at school due to the emergency COVID-19 situation there was no intention of penalty notices being issued at this point in time. He referred to the national advice and guidance and said the Council had adhered to the national arrangements.
A Member raised concerns regarding children who should be self-isolating, being allowed out in the community by their parents whilst awaiting test results. He felt that some parents were putting youngsters health at risk by allowing them out in the community. This could be considered as neglect and enquired if Social Services and the Police, who had responsibility for fines, were looking at this issue.
The Service Manager, Children’s Services said that she would air on the side of caution if Members were minded to send a generic message to parents with regards to those children that may be asymptomatic, symptomatic or even tested positive that are being allowed out into the community. She pointed out that the responsibility was not with the school after children had been told to self-isolate, it was a parental decision if parents were concerned for the safety of their children. The Service Manager advised Members that it would be better to try a supportive approach to encourage parents to keep their children in school and point out the ramifications for not following national guidelines. If the behaviour continued the Directorate could liaise with the local Community Engagement Officers on the ground to further advise whether it would meet the criteria for a safeguarding concern and ultimately a joint visit with the police, but this would depend on other factors.
The Service Manager advised that she would look back at the referrals from Quarters 1 and 2 to check if any had identified children that were out in the community when they should have been self-isolating. She would also liaise with Families First, the lower tier preventative services, to check if they had received any referrals of a similar nature.
The Committee AGREED this course of action.
A Member commented that no matter what action was taken there would always be exceptions, this was a difficult situation with parents unsure of what approach to take.
The Strategic Education Manager said that she would work with Social Services colleagues to identify pinch points where such incidents may happen when children were not in school.
The Committee AGREED to recommend that the report be accepted and endorse Option 1, namely that the draft policy as presented in Appendix 1 be accepted.