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BLOG SERIES: Perspectives on the pandemic

More than a year on from the launch of the National Emergencies Trust’s Coronavirus Appeal on 18 March 2020, we have asked our incredible funding partners to share their unique perspectives on the pandemic. With the help of Coronavirus Appeal funding, Barnardo’s launched the UK’s first free helpline supporting Black, Asian and minority ethnic children and families affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.


Young people and families

by Jon Brown, Barnardo’s Director of Strategic Partnerships

What difference has the pandemic made to the communities you serve?


Barnardo’s based its identification of need on the first lockdown and did not anticipate in July 2020 that schools in the Celtic nations would remain closed to most pupils until March or April 2021. Like many others, we anticipated that the struggle to adapt to the changes brought by Covid would remain after the immediate crisis, but we did not anticipate that this crisis would remain at the high level that it remains at present. The cumulative effect of multiple lockdowns and restrictions have intensified emotional and financial issues – families who coped in the first lockdown are unable to cope at present.


Boloh’s service users are communities that have experienced deprivation and health inequalities. The pandemic hasn’t told us anything new about the structural inequalities these communities face. It has instead not only exacerbated these inequalities, but has drawn national attention to issues of poverty, unemployment, digital poverty, separation and loss which have been under-recognised for a long time. In particular, young people have experienced disruption in their schooling which has affected attainment levels and an increasing sense of despair about their future. Many of the young people contacting the helpline have experienced a decline in their mental health and wellbeing.


What impact did you see on your services as a result?


The long-lasting impact of emotional trauma is not always evident during the immediate crisis; the impact of multiple lockdowns, restrictions and closures may not be seen until after the immediate danger to life subsides, yet this may still be considered during the crisis period and may pose significant threat to mental health and wellbeing. Our experience in Northern Ireland with conflict has shown that suicide risk increases in the aftermath. All statutory agencies are reporting fewer child protection referrals – this is not due to fewer issues, but that the usual protective factors, like school, are not operating as normal. We know that children are particularly vulnerable as schools and clubs are closed, and may be unsafe at home.


There has been an increase in demand for our therapeutic services over the past three months and for some service users, we have had to offer more than the six initial sessions. More than half of the cases are assessed as complex and this has had an impact on the wellbeing of staff, so we have had to provide monthly therapeutic reflective group for helpline advisors and a similar support system for psychotherapists. The extent of the deprivation experienced by callers demanded that the service partnered with foodbanks and we were able to provide food vouchers. Therefore, we have had to provide more practical and hands on support to meet the basic needs of callers.


What has the funding from the Coronavirus Appeal enabled you to do for those people you help?


A significant part of the offer is that we build capacity with parents and other adults (including teachers) to support children and young people, eg accessing Barnardo’s hub and resource and to respond in an appropriate way. This ensures that parents and teachers can be supported to meet children and young people’s needs now. Crucially, it also increases capacity to build strategies to help with emotional wellbeing now and when facing the challenges in life in the future.


Many children have specific fears they are discussing in direct work in the sessions, which are short and focused. These include: fear of illness, finance, parental separation, family dysfunction, anxiety, isolation, bullying, peer difficulties. Children are worried that their parent(s) or other family members will contract Covid – this is a particular worry for children with single parents and/or those with underlying vulnerabilities including health issues.


We have been able to develop a culturally sensitive service to meet the needs of seldom heard and seen communities at a time when they need it the most. These communities don’t have access to therapeutic support services and Boloh has been able to offer this in 13 different languages. We have been able to recruit approximately 40 Black Asian and minority ethnic therapist, which is a USP of the helpline. We have been able to provide communities with £42,000 in vouchers and devices. Our partnership with Vodaphone enabled the helpline to provide laptops and smartphones who allowed C&YP to access schooling online and to combat loneliness.


What challenges and/or opportunities do you foresee ahead?


While Barnardo’s acknowledged the challenges in providing a remote service, rather than face to face, children and families love the accessibility of See, Hear, Respond. Children and young people with anxiety about travelling or social anxiety have fully engaged in the service and prefer the remote way of working. Children and families appreciate the responsiveness of the service and the lack of long waiting lists. These key learning points from See Hear Respond in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will inform Barnardo’s future services across the UK.
The data collated will be used to support Barnardo’s with providing evidence of the impact of the pandemic on racialised groups and will support the organisation in its quest to develop a centre of expertise focused on improving outcomes for C&YP from these communities. The helpline has national reach and this has allowed the organisation to reach communities that are destitute and forgotten. Boloh’s webchat facility is the first provided by Barnardo’s and it has been used as a template for other services. The multi-lingual and ethnically diverse staff team is first for Barnardo’s and discussions are being held on how to capitalise on this going forward. With five more months left in the life of the project, staff retention is an issue we have already started to address. The most pressing challenge would be ending the service when communities need it the most, as it is anticipated that the issues these communities experience would be revealed as lockdown eases and this coincides with the winddown of the service.