Safeguarding children during the pandemic

<span>Photograph: Alamy</span>
Photograph: Alamy

Regarding your editorial (The Guardian view on children in the pandemic: hidden victims, 28 April), the government’s priority for vulnerable children now, as it always has been, is to keep them safe and put their best interests at the heart of every decision. Covid-19 has put new pressures on children’s social care. We have seen the impact of this virus on our frontline public services. We must make sure every safeguarding professional can react to the pressures they face in these unprecedented times – which may increase still as we enter the recovery phase.

As a responsible government, we must protect services and enable them to respond to the greatest need. We have worked across the children’s social care sector to develop legislation to do so. In cases where social workers cannot work as they did before, we are allowing them to make pragmatic decisions through minor, temporary amendments to regulations, while always keeping children’s safety paramount.

The vast majority of regulations remain unchanged. Any amendments should only to be used when absolutely necessary, with senior management oversight, and must be consistent with the overarching safeguarding and welfare duties that remain in place. They will remain in place only for so long as needed.

Our focus remains fixed on protecting all vulnerable children. The duties on local authorities and providers to report their decision-making remain the same. Ofsted inspections continue where there are safeguarding concerns. And new teams are working around the country to improve our understanding about the risks facing these children.

I hope these flexibilities will not have to be used. But it is my responsibility to those who care for our most vulnerable children and families to provide the necessary tools to make the right decisions during these challenging times.
Vicky Ford
Minister for children and families

• Your editorial details the wide-ranging risks to vulnerable children and young people and how these will be amplified by 10 regulatory changes introduced to reduce the protection of looked-after children. Deregulation seems inexplicable at this time, not least the provision that fostering services are no longer required to report infectious diseases to Ofsted.

In the context of the Department for Education’s failed proposals to deregulate protection on two occasions from 2016, due to widespread opposition, it is evident that this is a key component of government policy at the highest level, including reducing the role of local authorities and opening the door to the privatisation of services and other providers. The government’s response, including the lack of parliamentary scrutiny, is a salutary reminder to all those who believe the pandemic will result in a radical revival of progressive public policy that this is very unlikely to happen under this government.
Prof Mike Stein
University of York

• Carolyne Willow and Article 39 are correct to point to the abomination that is removing safeguards to protect the UK’s most vulnerable children during the Covid-19 pandemic, when they are most at risk from a society in “lockdown” (Children in care at risk since coronavirus crisis, say campaigners, 29 April).

It is somewhat reassuring that the shadow minister for early years has raised the issue in parliament, but the more fundamental question remains: in the face of appropriate governmental prioritisation of the needs of adults and particularly the elderly in danger from Covid-19, who is responsible and accountable for the best interests of children and young people? There seems to be a stark lack of political focus and absence of public discussion on the effect of Covid-19 on their lives across health, education, social care, justice and poverty.

We need government to work with key actors in the children’s sector now to understand the impact of Covid-19, develop mitigation strategies, and start to plan the childhood we want to create for these children of the pandemic.
Dr Sunil Bhopal Clinical lecturer in population health, Population Health Science Institute, Newcastle University
Al Aynsley-Green Professor emeritus, University College London; Author, The British Betrayal of Childhood

• Join the debate – email

• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit