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Government must act urgently to strengthen support for vulnerable children

Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson Layla Moran
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Responding to newly-released @EducationGovUK data showing that only an estimated 5% of children classed by the Government as vulnerable attended school on Friday 17 April,

Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson Layla Moran said:

“This is utterly shocking, and shows just how massive the problem we face is to look after vulnerable children during the pandemic. Government has a responsibility to keep kids safe, and we just don’t know if they are.

“The Government needs to act to make sure that no vulnerable child is left to become a victim of circumstance because they’re not coming to school. 5% is likely to be an overestimation, as not all children counted by the Government in this category are definitely in need, and we know from the Children’s Commissioner that thousands of vulnerable kids are ‘invisible’ to services and not counted towards the figures.

“Schools, police forces, local authorities, youth services and many others have all expressed their deep worry at this situation. That’s why the Liberal Democrats have called on Gavin Williamson to urgently announce comprehensive support for vulnerable children, including the recruitment of the trained, experienced volunteers we know we need to work with schools and local government to find and help them.”

See below for Layla Moran’s recent letter (Sunday 18 April) to the Secretary of State for Education calling for a package of measures to help vulnerable children to be introduced as a priority.

The measures outlined in Layla Moran’s letter include:

  • the recruitment of a volunteer force to identify and contact vulnerable children
  •  the convening of a national Emergency Vulnerable Children Taskforce
  • an uplift to Child Benefit of £150 per month per child

The package recommended by the Liberal Democrats has been closely informed by the findings and calls of leading stakeholders, including the Children’s Commissioner, NSPCC and Children’s Society. 

Following the calls for the government to support her package, Layla Moran said:

“This is a national emergency, and the Government needs to take action to reflect that. That’s why the Education Secretary must urgently announce comprehensive support for vulnerable children, as has already been done for the vulnerable in other parts of society.

“It’s important that we recruit the trained, experienced volunteers we know we need to work with schools and local government to find and help these vulnerable children, and that a national Emergency Vulnerable Children Taskforce is convened to coordinate the Government’s approach.

“An uplift in child benefit to leave no family hungry or without money to cover the costs of their kids being at home, echoing what has already been done in France, is also urgently needed.

“I hope that the Secretary of State takes affirmative action as a priority, and that the measures we have recommended are taken forward.”

The text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Gavin, 

I hope you are well, and that you are able to stay safe at this time. 
Unfortunately, for so many vulnerable children in this country, staying safe isn’t an option. I don’t doubt that all agree that protecting vulnerable children during these unprecedented times is an absolute priority, however I am deeply concerned that no firm action is being seen to be taken.  

At the moment, we face two urgent problems. Firstly, we do not even know who every vulnerable child is; due to this pandemic in particular, many children will find themselves in this bracket for the first time, and they need urgent support. Secondly, we need to make sure the children we do know are vulnerable are receiving all the support we can provide as a society. 

My deep worry is that I am hearing multiple agencies raise concerns about this issue including schools, police forces, local authorities, youth services and many others. Yet, to date, the Government has not announced an adequate or comprehensive package of measures to help vulnerable children during this pandemic. We know that children are prone to falling between the cracks in the system and I urge you today to take a clearer lead in ensuring no child becomes victim to circumstance at this difficult time.  

The medically, economically and adult vulnerable have all received support, announced by Government ministers in the daily press briefings from Number 10. Similar support for children is notable by its absence. 

The Government must listen to frontline children’s workers, our teachers and our head teachers, to help them to support their pupils and to ensure there is adequate funding to support vulnerable children. Following conversations with stakeholders, constituents, council leaders and others in my community and across the country, I feel compelled to write to you, to urge the Government to take comprehensive action as a priority. 

Based on these conversations I would like to propose the following as a basis for a package for children:

  • Create a dedicated and specialised volunteer frontline force to directly help schools and local authorities identify vulnerable children and contact them. This should be done by recruiting supply teachers, retired teachers, retired social workers and others who are DBS-checked, and who have recently attended child safeguarding training, and be funded by national government and facilitated by local government and schools, building on the recent call by the Children’s Commissioner. 
  • Convene a national Emergency Vulnerable Children Taskforce, led by the Department for Education, including the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Work and Pensions, headteachers, police, youth services, children’s charities, the Children’s Commissioner and those who deliver social services, in particular local authorities (e.g. the LGA). This taskforce will look at best practice across the country, bringing together Children’s Services groups in Local Resilience Forums and implementing these recommendations as quickly as possible.
  • Stop the disadvantage gap from widening any further by seeking an uplift to Child Benefit and introducing specific funding to ensure that no child is left out of learning from home. We must recognise that the free school meals voucher scheme is not working for everyone, especially for the most vulnerable. Following the example of France, the Government should seriously consider an immediate uplift of £150 per month per child to Child Benefit, and a further £100 for any subsequent child. 

This is a national emergency. With a frontline force of volunteers with experience and training to work with children, schools and local authorities, working together under a national taskforce, we would be in a far better position to protect our children.

Further to this, the Government should:

  • Move excluded children back on to school registers.
  • Hold regular meetings with top children’s charities to listen to the experts and the people on the ground. The Home Office, Department for Education, Ministry of Justice, Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Work and Pensions should all do this together.
  • Target adverts on social media specifically for children, to make sure they know who they can contact for support (e.g. Childline), and ensuring that these support services are fully funded.
  • Work with social media influencers and media personalities to make sure they are communicating advice to their young audiences about coronavirus and how to stay safe.
  • Immediately grant any Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) waiting to be approved, to give any family waiting for theirs to be granted some respite.
  • Encourage schools to recruit supply teachers to help facilitate these measures, with any extra costs fully covered by central government without budget caps. 

I hope this is taken in the constructive manner in which it is intended. However, I also hope my alarm at the lack of communicated action is equally clear, which brings me to my final ask. 

As Secretary of State for Education, I understand that you have not yet led one of the daily Number 10 press briefings. Given the urgency of this, I would urge you to inform the media and the country what this government is doing to protect vulnerable children at the earliest possible opportunity. 
  
Thank you in advance for reading my recommendations in the constructive spirit in which they are intended, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. 

Yours sincerely, 
 
Layla Moran MP 
Member of Parliament for Oxford West and Abingdon 

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