Coronavirus: Town Hall to redeploy youth workers to support schools

Deputy Mayor and education boss Cllr Anntoinette Bramble.
Photograph: Hackney Council

Hackney Council is preparing to retrain and redeploy its youth workers through the schools and social care system as local government continues to readjust to the frontline impact of the coronavirus emergency.

With schools in the borough “closed but open, open but closed”, the Town Hall has spent the days since the government’s call to keep all but the most vulnerable in education settings thinking about how the closures will operate in practice in the coming months.

Following a letter sent to all students from Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville and education lead and Deputy Mayor Cllr Anntoinette Bramble expressing their pride in the borough’s young people during the emergency, Bramble went on to praise local schools for their “stellar” job in adjusting to the new reality.

The education boss also spoke of her concerns for the mental health of kids in the borough, and the importance of maintaining continuity for those who are transferred to other schools during the emergency, and of maintaining support for vulnerable children left isolated at home.

Bramble, a former teacher herself, said: ““I don’t think the reality of where we’re moving to is hitting. As this goes on for months, I’m increasingly more concerned about young people getting anxious and isolated, or not coping from the withdrawal of their friendship groups.

“Young people are social beings, and that being stripped away from them is a real concern for me. So it’s finding ways for young people to connect.

“Schools are busy, interesting and fun places, but actually anything out of that routine can be challenging for children.

“The novelty of something can wear off quite easily. Children transitioning to a new school, it might seem quite exciting, you may have friends that go to it, but when you realise that it’s the new environment, that’s the importance of the staff going over for some continuity.

“In theory, children that are in schools that have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), their experience and day-to-day activities and provisions will stay moderately the same, unless the staffing ratio has changed in the school for any reason.

“Children being kept at home should be speaking to the school and their plan coordinator, and everyone should be having a dialogue what the provision looks like at home, and what the resources are to put in place. It’s very different, but that’s what should be happening at the moment.”

With a minority of children still attending school with support through their education, health and care plans (EHCPs) as normal, though with some settings seeing 10 or 20 students attending in total, teachers are to call students on EHCPs on a sometimes twice-weekly basis, as schools close if staffing levels mean they cannot stay safely open.

According to Bramble, the priority for home visits for vulnerable young people being kept at home is reserved for those who at risk of domestic violence or abuse, antisocial or criminal behaviour, children known to the Integrated Gangs Unit and those that have suffered bereavements.

Following the closure of Hackney’s youth hubs, with outreach workers withdrawing to encourage young people to stay home during the emergency, with “extra capacity” in the system Bramble is now retasking these staff to support schools, or even to be retrained to visit children as part of social care “where appropriate”.

Bramble added: “What’s unique about Hackney is because we have the youth club offer, hubs, and because Young Hackney has quite a few staff under its umbrella, where the hubs are closed, we have staff to distribute.

“We have extra capacity in the system, so between staff on rotas offering that service – some of them have sports clubs that come in and run services, and the additional capacity from Young Hackney staff, so at the moment it looks like the provision will be well-supported.”

Schools are now getting ready to stay open over Easter, with Young Hackney staff on hand to support schools with their rotas in this time if necessary.

Rolling risk assessments are also being carried out, with vulnerable students to be offered their place back in school if their situation changes at home as the Town Hall attempts to maintain a “dialogue” with families still adjusting to the change.

Short of harsher government lockdown measures, Bramble has said that the council is trying to encourage children to take their places back up again in school in order that children have support “as and when they need it”.

The Deputy Mayor added that the Town Hall’s preference would have been for government to coordinate closing provision for children of non-key worker, “rather than this situation where it’s almost working in reverse”.

The council is also hinting that it could use its powers to make direct payments to parents with vulnerable children at home through the Easter period, with one potential option being the money being delivered through the system parents already use to claim money for short respite breaks.

Bramble said: “Hackney’s heart is demonstrated in bucketloads by the sheer determination to rise and respond to a challenge in a time of crisis. It’s beautiful to see. It’s not a beautiful situation, but it’s reassuring to see.

“In a time of crisis sometimes we get to see the worst of one another, but actually in a time of crisis I believe you get to see the best of us.”