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Supporting families in Cornwall through the lockdown

Across Cornwall, social workers have continued to support vulnerable children and their families during the pandemic to ensure that no one is left behind.

They have adapted their ways of working and embraced new technology to create a new normal, whilst ensuring that isolated individuals receive the contact they need.

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Home visits continued during the UK wide lockdown, with chats in the garden, doorstep checks and increased use of things such as WhatsApp.

“Things changed very quickly at the start of the pandemic” said Becky, one of the social workers at Cornwall Council. “But we quickly developed new systems and styles of working to keep that consistency of support for the families we work with across the county.

 “We’ve been creative in the work that we do; it’s about giving the families that familiarity and reassuring them that we are still here, we are still working and still wanting to help and support them – It’s just a little bit different at the moment. 

“Where we can, we’ve still been going out and doing home visits, trying to social distance as much as we can during those, but it is really tricky when there are little ones around. They don’t understand what is going on; to them it’s like this invisible thing that you can’t describe to them.”

Becky added: “I had one little girl who really wanted to hold my hand on a recent visit, so I created this game with some hand sanitiser in my bag that smells of grapefruit.  I got them to squirt it on their hands and on mine and they all had to guess the smell. This turned a difficult conversation into something they could understand, reducing the risk to them and any of the other families I support.”

Many families found the lockdown challenging, but for some it provided a welcome opportunity to spend more time together.

Becky said: “Some of the families have taken this as an opportunity to do something different, but others have struggled; a lot of the families that we work with have a limited network around them, and for them they have found the lockdown.”    

“We have created Covid-19 plans and we are reviewing them as time goes on; these look at the child’s health, the education and contingency care, so if something did happen, where could those children go and what support is in place for these families.

“All of the professionals are working together on a rota basis.  We could have rung the families every day, but that’s not what we would do normally and that could overwhelm the families, so it’s trying to create a sense of normality in a very un-normal time.

“But also, for those that have found it more difficult, we have had to be more creative in how we work with them; for one mum I have gone out for socially distanced walks with her, because she wasn’t leaving home.  So it was good to get her out and to get some fresh air, because that helps everyone.”

Social workers in Cornwall concentrate their work on building a relationship with families and this approach has enabled them to tailor their support during the pandemic.  

Becky said: “We are forward thinking and we’ve already identified new ways of working that we are going to carry on.  The use of WhatsApp has been great; it’s really helped us to have conversations with some of the teenagers we support, some who don’t tend to interact as much. That is a positive to take from this.”