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Charlotte Levey

Understanding new patterns of demand in children’s services

One of the most significant things about lockdown has been the impact on the ability of local public services to connect with children and young people. Schools, social care professionals and education support services have had far fewer opportunities to ascertain which children and families might need support with their wellbeing, health or safety.

While lockdown has affected everyone, it has impacted people in different ways. For some children and young people and their families, it will have been a period of heightened stress. The usual opportunities for release – whether through social interaction, having a clear routine involving multiple changes of scenery in a day, access to regular respite care, or simply being able to get out and about regularly – were not possible for an extended period (and in many cases are still not back to normal). There has been a surge in demand for domestic abuse support, and there are likely to be lasting effects on children and young people who have been exposed to this. In addition, we can expect an increase in housing instability for families, and the economic impact of Covid will start to make itself felt.

What does this mean for children’s services? We have already seen unprecedented changes in demand, with a steep drop in safeguarding referrals and a slowing of referrals for Education, Health and Care Plans, for example. However, given the challenging situations that many families have experienced, the expectation is that demand will pick up and accelerate past pre-lockdown levels as children and family mobility increases.

In response, we have been working with a number of councils to map demand – capturing current data around these changes in order to increase the accuracy of future projections. Ultimately, the purpose of tracking and mapping demand forward is to make it clear to services that if no preventative actions are taken, families may experience prolonged periods of stress, which will  impact on longer term demand for local public services. However, with the right mitigating actions in place, local authorities can plan to ‘avoid’ the excess demand that they might otherwise face, as illustrated in this diagram:

The demand mapping process entails local public services taking stock of current levels of demand, anticipating how these might change into the future, and building a case for what needs to change locally. It is important to recognise that there are different types of changed demand for public services – it may be delayed, displaced or additional demand resulting from the pandemic or response to the pandemic.

When working with children and young people, local authorities should look to:

  • Identify those families who are most in need of support but are not already receiving it, and take a proactive approach to outreach (see Matt Clayton’s blogpost on how one of our local authority clients have done this)
  • Work with partners to address the complex drivers of demand for children and families. For example, what steps are being taken locally to ensure housing provision is maintained? Are services targeting perpetrators as well as victims of domestic abuse? How are efforts being coordinated to deliver internet access for all learners?
  • Ensure they adjust support mechanisms to recognise that children and young people are spending more time at home than school – families will need additional guidance

As this period of uncertainty continues it is vital that local authorities apply the rapid response thinking that has characterised their handling of the pandemic to adapt to the needs of children, young people and families. Rather than responding to each crisis as it arises, looking ahead to anticipate demand will provide a clear direction and ultimately support the development of longer term resilience within local authorities.


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