Building on our existing research on effective child protection (Ferguson, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2018; Ferguson et al, 2020; Disney et al, 2019) and on the use of digital technology in everyday life (Pink et al, 2015; Pink et al, 2017), we will identify areas of concern, as well as opportunities that the changed conditions for practice have created and advise on effective responses. To achieve this the research will focus on the work of four (anonymous) local authorities in England and we will work with our project partners Research in Practice and the British Association of Social Workers. .
The picture of how the pandemic is affecting social work and child protection is fast-moving, but a common approach being taken is for those children considered to be at medium and high risk of harm to receive either ‘virtual home visits’ via video calls, or in-person home visits, or both.
The key aims of the research are to:
- Ascertain how the pandemic is impacting upon the ways practitioners are relating to children and parents and their capacities to keep children safe and help parents.
- Identify the innovative digital methods being adopted to make virtual home visits, assess their effectiveness in keeping children safe and advise on how they can be most productively used during and after the pandemic.
- Identify how social work organisations are coping with the new definitions of accountability and risk that arise from social distancing and the implications for government inspection and assessments of good practice.
- Ascertain the effects of COVID-19 on social worker’s well-being and practice, including the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and what it is like for staff working almost exclusively from home, the quality of emotional support and case direction being provided.
- Ascertain service users’ experiences of social work during the pandemic and the extent to which parents' needs and rights are understood and being responded to.