Coronavirus guidance on vulnerable people and young children
March 23, 2020
1. What is the definition of vulnerable children?
Vulnerable children include those who have a social worker and those children and young people up to the age of 25 with education, health and care (EHC) plans.
Those who have a social worker include children who have a child protection plan and those who are looked after by the local authority. A child may also be deemed to be vulnerable if they have been assessed as being in need or otherwise meet the definition in section 17 of the Children Act 1989.
Those with an EHC plan should be risk-assessed by their school or college in consultation with the local authority (LA) and parents, to decide whether they need to continue to be offered a school or college place in order to meet their needs, or whether they can safely have their needs met at home. This could include, if necessary, carers therapists or clinicians visiting the home to provide any essential services. Many children and young people with EHC plans can safely remain at home.
We know that schools and other education providers may also want to support other children who are vulnerable where they are able to do so. Eligibility for free school meals in and of itself should not be the determining factor in assessing vulnerability. We are also asking local authorities and schools to maintain provision for children in alternative provision (AP) settings wherever possible, since many of these settings have a high proportion of children who have a social worker and EHC plans.
We will work with schools, colleges and local authorities to help identify the children who most need support at this time. Looking after these children will enable schools to support the country during challenging times.
2. What institutions does this partial closure apply to?
This applies to:
- registered childcare providers (including nurseries and childminders)
- local authority-maintained schools and academies (both mainstream and special)
- all alternative provision including pupil referral units
- non-maintained special schools
- independent special schools
- general further education (FE) colleges
- special post-16 institutions
- other post-16 providers
Children supported by the children’s social care system
3. What about children not included in this definition?
School is known as a protective factor for children receiving the support of a social worker. It is right that we prioritise support for those who will benefit the most. We are balancing this carefully with the urgent need to reduce social contact right across society to support our work to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
Leaders of educational settings and designated safeguarding leads know who their most vulnerable children are and will have the flexibility to offer a place to those on the edges of receiving children’s social care support.
4. Why are these children being prioritised?
We know that some families need more support than others and that education is an important protective factor for children receiving support from a social worker. We want to prioritise supporting those most in need at this difficult time.
5. What will happen to vulnerable children who have to isolate for 14 days with their families?
For those children who are being supported by children’s social care, local authorities will be expected to prioritise support to the most vulnerable, including undertaking necessary visits whilst taking appropriate infection control measures.
6. How will parents know they are eligible for this provision?
For children receiving support from a social worker, local authorities will be well placed to identify them. Social workers will also ensure that families know that they will be eligible for this provision and how to access support.
7. Are children in foster care eligible? How will a foster carer know that they are eligible?
Yes, all children who are looked after by the local authority are eligible. For all looked after children, local authorities will be well placed to identify them and ensure that foster carers know that they will be eligible for this provision and how to access support.
8. I am a foster carer who is over 70 and/or has an underlying health condition. I don’t want to send a child to school as they may bring back the virus. Do I have to send?
If you have concerns about your health, or that of someone in your household, you should discuss this with your social worker to ensure that this is taken into account when assessing what is in the best interests of your foster child.
See the guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK and protecting older people and vulnerable adults.
9. What is being done about vulnerable children with underlying health conditions who are being advised to isolate but rely on schools for meals?
We will give schools the flexibility to provide meals or vouchers to children eligible for free school meals. Some schools are already doing this, and we will reimburse the costs.
Schools will be able to provide meals or vouchers for supermarkets or local shops, which can be sent directly to families who are either self-isolating at home or whose schools are closed on government advice.
See COVID-19: free school meals guidance for schools.
We will put in place a national voucher system as soon as possible.
10. Is it guaranteed that children will attend their usual school?
Local authorities will work with trusts and schools to ensure that schools are kept open, but in some cases this will not be possible. Local authorities and schools will make the most appropriate arrangements and talk to parents about this. It may not always be possible for children to attend their usual school in order to ensure that children and staff are kept safe.
11. If children are accessing schools that are not local, will transport be provided?
Where children are receiving support from a social worker, we would expect the local authority to review transport arrangements and make appropriate provision for children to reach school safely. We will work closely with local authorities to put the necessary arrangements in place to support children.
12. Will there be a stigma attached to having to be in school when most children are not?
Many of the children attending school will be doing so because their parents are carrying out important roles at this difficult time. There should be no stigma attached to that, and there should be no reason that vulnerable children will be identified separately. However, where parents may feel concerned that their child attending school identifies them as being in need of social work support, schools and social workers can support families to decide how best to manage that.
13. Do vulnerable children have to continue to go to school?
There is an expectation that vulnerable children who have a social worker will attend school, as long as it is safe for them to do so. In circumstances where a parent does not want to bring their child to school, and their child is considered vulnerable, the social worker and school should explore the reasons for this, directly with the parent, and help to resolve any concerns or difficulties wherever possible.
Where parents are concerned about the risk of the child contracting the virus, the school or social worker should talk through these anxieties with the parent following the advice set out by Public Health England.
Providers may also want to consider how to encourage children and young people to attend provision. Social workers will remain in contact with vulnerable children and families, including remotely if needed.
14. What about additional pressure on families with children at home – will that increase risk?
It is right that we prioritise which children will continue to attend in light of both their specific circumstances, and so that critical workers can continue their vital work and that key services can continue to operate. Where children are at risk, they should be referred to children’s social care. Vulnerable children who already have a social worker will still be visited and/or monitored as frequently as possible and are eligible for a school place.
15. Is there any responsibility on local authorities to keep monitoring vulnerable children’s attendance?
Yes. Ensuring that vulnerable children remain protected is a top priority for the government. Local authorities have the key day-to-day responsibility for delivery of children’s social care. Social workers will continue to work with vulnerable children in this difficult period and should support these children to access this provision.
Local authorities and schools do not need to complete their usual day-to-day attendance processes to follow up on non-attendance. Schools should, however, ensure they have a process in place to check on the welfare of any child in need who does not attend on any day.
We will introduce a separate way of keeping a record of children of key workers and vulnerable children who are able to attend school. This will allow for a record of attendance for safeguarding purposes and allow schools to provide accurate, up-to-date data to the department on the number of children attending through a new daily web form.
16. What about children’s homes and other settings?
Children’s homes will remain open – we are talking to local authorities to ensure that they have the necessary workforce to remain open to deliver the vital protection they provide for vulnerable children.
17. What if there are not enough staff in residential children’s homes due to COVID-19?
We understand residential and secure children’s homes are working closely with their local authorities on continuity plans for potential staff shortages at a local level and we are considering options to support providers with staff shortages.
See Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on isolation for residential educational settings.
18. What is being done to ensure there are enough social workers for continuity of care for vulnerable children?
We are doing everything we can to ensure continuity of care for vulnerable children in the event that the workforce is significantly affected by COVID-19. This includes, through the Government’s emergency legislation, allowing the emergency registration of social workers who have recently left the profession to expedite their registration allowing them to return to practice.
19. What is being done to help local authorities cope with all the extra work they might have to do, if lots of staff are sick or unable to work?
We’re working closely with colleagues in local government to work out what will be most helpful to them overall and to identify any particular places which are struggling. We have already paused Ofsted inspections, including to children’s services, and are working closely with the sector to provide any clarity required. The Government has made available £1.6 billion to local authorities to help them respond to coronavirus (COVID-19) pressures across all the services they deliver, including their work with vulnerable children.
Children with education health and care (EHC) plans
20. Do all children and young people with an EHC plan need to continue at school?
Schools, colleges, other training providers and local authorities will need to consider the needs of all children and young people with an EHC plan, alongside the views of their parents, and make a risk assessment for each child or young person. They will need to consider a number of different risks to each individual, including:
- the potential health risks to the individual from COVID-19, bearing in mind any underlying health conditions. This must be on an individual basis with advice from an appropriate health professional where required
- the risk to the individual if some or all elements of their EHC plan cannot be delivered at all, and the risk if they cannot be delivered in the normal manner or in the usual setting
- the ability of the individual’s parents or home to ensure their health and care needs can be met safely
- the potential impact to the individual’s wellbeing of changes to routine or the way in which provision is delivered
We expect most children will fall into the following categories:
- children and young people who would be at significant risk if their education, health and care provision and placement did not continue, namely those who could not safely be supported at home. This may include those with profound and multiple learning difficulties, and those receiving significant levels of personal care support. Local authorities will need to work with the individual’s educational setting – especially residential special schools and colleges – as well as local health partners, to ensure they are able to remain open wherever possible. This may mean deploying staff from other schools, to keep staffing ratios safe
- children and young people whose needs can be met at home, namely those who are not receiving personal care from their educational setting, or whose limited need for personal care can be met in their family home. As part of the government’s emergency powers, we will modify the statutory duties on local authorities to maintain the precise provision in EHC plans and will expect educational settings and local authorities to use their reasonable endeavours to support these children and their families
Where a local authority is unable to put in place stated provision, they will need to use their reasonable endeavours to do this, but won’t be penalised for failing to meet the existing duty in the 2014 Act.
21. What will local authorities be expected to provide for children with EHC plans?
During this outbreak, educational settings, local authorities, health bodies, parents and young people with SEND should work together to respond pragmatically and flexibly to each individual’s needs.
The Government introduced new legislation (19 March) in response to the outbreak. As a result, local authorities will need to use their reasonable endeavours to ensure that provision continues to be available to meet education, health and care needs and prioritise their efforts to support those with the most complex needs. Local authorities will need to work closely with educational settings – and in particular, special schools and colleges, and other specialist provision – to ensure sufficient provision is available across the local area. Local authorities and educational settings may need to redeploy staff (whether teachers, support staff or other critical workers) to ensure specialist schools and colleges have sufficient workforce to operate safely, and may need to do this across the usual boundaries of maintained, academy, college or other status to ensure the right staff are in the right settings.
Parents who consent to changes to, or reductions in, their child’s provision during this outbreak will not be considered to have agreed a permanent change to what their child needs in their EHC plan. We are also considering amending SEND regulations to change timescales relating to EHC plan processes.
The Department for Education will work closely with all local authorities to help them in this important role.
22. What about meeting health and social care needs?
Local authorities will need to work with their health and social care partners to ensure individuals’ needs can continue to be met safely. This is particularly important for children with complex medical and clinical nursing needs, and children in care who have special educational needs and disabilities.
23. My child is still waiting for the EHC plan to be agreed and/or I am going to the tribunal to secure the EHC plan for my child. Will they qualify as a vulnerable child and be able to go to school?
If the local authority has not yet issued an EHC plan for your child, then they will not automatically be included in this group of children. However, their educational setting and local authority have discretion to undertake a risk assessment and offer support if that is needed.
If your child has an EHC plan the local authority remains responsible for maintaining it, including until any appeal to the tribunal has been heard and resolved.
We are also considering whether regulations need to be amended in order to allow greater flexibility on the timescales relating to the EHC plan process.
Special schools and colleges
24. What should be done about infection control in educational settings for children who have complex needs?
We know that this is a worrying time for parents and for staff working with children with complex needs. It is important that decisions are made based on risk assessments – for both the child and for the educational setting – and are informed by the latest public health and medical advice and guidance available. With support from government guidance and local partner agencies, leaders of educational settings are well-placed to make judgements about what is needed in their settings, and the government will support them in that.
See Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on isolation for residential educational settings for more information.
25. Will my child’s special school stay open?
We are recommending that all residential special schools and colleges conduct a risk assessment both for the institution and for individual pupils/students to identify how self-isolation measures should be enacted, if needed. This will involve close working with local authorities, the local Public Health England health protection team, the clinical commissioning group and, where appropriate, the child’s parents or carers.
This means that case-by-case, closures may apply if the workforce can be deployed elsewhere more efficiently to ensure children are safe and their needs are met.
26. Do special schools need to open over the Easter holidays?
Where possible, we would encourage settings to look after critical workers’ children and vulnerable children throughout the Easter holidays. Local authorities will need to ensure, as usual, that provision continues to be available to meet education, health and care needs. Following discussion with schools, this may involve some special schools and colleges continuing to offer some or all of their provision over the Easter holidays.
27. What about residential special schools and special post-16 institutions?
The department will support local authorities to work with residential special schools and colleges (including independent and non-maintained special schools, state boarding schools, special post-16 institutions and other post-16 training providers) to ensure children who cannot be supported at home can continue with their placements safely. We will continue to work with local authorities and sector bodies (such as the National Association of Independent and Non-maintained Special Schools (NASS), Natspec and the Boarding Schools Association) to consider how best to support these settings, for example to ensure they have the right staffing.
Children and young people placed in residential special schools and colleges frequently have the most complex special educational needs, requiring higher levels of support and staffing. In particular, children and young people who are placed in 52-week residential placements may not be able to be supported safely at home. Any decisions about individual placements should be made based on individual risk assessments.
28. What about those with EHC plans who attend mainstream schools and colleges?
Local authorities will need to consider the best way to make provision for children and young people whose education, health and care needs cannot safely be met at home. This may mean some children and young people attending different institutions in the short term.
29. What if there are not enough staff in educational settings due to COVID-19?
Local authorities will need to work closely with educational settings – and in particular special schools and other specialist provision – to ensure sufficient provision is available across the local area. Local authorities and educational settings may need to redeploy staff (whether teachers, support staff or other critical workers) to ensure specialist schools and colleges have sufficient workforce to operate safely, and may need to do this across the usual boundaries of maintained, academy, college or other status to ensure the right staff are in the right settings.
30. How will local authorities and educational settings manage the financial impact of these changes?
Funding for all schools (including maintained and academy special schools, non-maintained special schools, independent special schools, pupil referral units, and special post-16 institutions), whether from local or central government, will be maintained and not reduced because some or all pupils are not in attendance (either because of self-isolation, or where the institution has closed).
We will maintain grant funding to FE colleges. They will continue to receive their existing Adult Education Budget and 16-19 grant allocations, in the usual way.
We are also considering amending SEND regulations to change timescales relating to EHC plan processes.
We know that schools may face additional costs, as a result of COVID-19. We will put in place a new process that allows us to reimburse schools for exceptional costs that they face as a result. We will discuss how best to deliver this funding with stakeholders over the next few days, and will publish details of the scheme shortly, but we trust that this will give headteachers the reassurances they need, so that they are able to concentrate on their vital role in supporting the nation through this crisis.
Children in alternative provision (AP) settings
We have defined vulnerable children as those who have a social worker and those with EHC plans. Alternative provision settings serve a small number of children and young people, a high proportion of whom meet this definition of vulnerability.
AP providers are already well-placed to cater for the needs of the children we are defining as vulnerable in a way that would be difficult to replicate elsewhere. The AP sector therefore has a key role to play in helping safeguard this group of children at this difficult time.
The government is asking headteachers of AP providers to work with government – through regional schools commissioners, local authorities and other key agencies on the best way to protect these vulnerable children, including by keeping AP settings open where it is feasible to do so.
31. Why is the government keeping AP open while other schools close?
Significant numbers of children in AP meet our definition of vulnerable – a high proportion of AP pupils have a social worker (children in need, those on child protection plans or who are looked after by the local authority) and/or are children with EHC Plans.
32. Does this mean all AP schools and providers must remain open?
Local arrangements are now required in order to determine the best way to protect vulnerable children in AP, including by keeping AP settings open where it is feasible to do so. Local authorities will be best placed to determine how this can be delivered locally, working closely with local schools and headteachers, and regional schools commissioners.
33. Will it be feasible for AP to remain open and will young people attend?
Government will support AP providers to overcome key challenges including staff absence and high levels of pupil absence and to develop effective arrangements to protect young people in AP, including keeping AP settings open where possible. We will work with local authorities though Regional School Commissioners to support schools with planning locally and where possible, to help them re-deploy suitably qualified and experienced staff where it is safe and appropriate to do so.
34. What if the AP can’t stay open?
Where it is not possible for an AP setting to remain open to support this small group of vulnerable children, local authorities and schools will need to assess the safeguarding needs of those children on a case by case basis, working with social workers and other agencies to make appropriate arrangements for any vulnerable children that will be affected by their AP setting closing.
35. Will this put AP staff and young people at risk at a time when government is closing all other schools?
The cohort of vulnerable children in AP is small but at high risk of harm if they are not in school. The scientific advice shows that schools are safe for this small number of children to continue attending – but asking others to stay away will help to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).