Published: 5 August 2021
According to a new report, published today by Public Health Wales, The NHS Wales Safeguarding Network effectively managed to continue its vital work to protect vulnerable groups despite the significant increase in demand and extreme challenges caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
The National Safeguarding Team works closely with Welsh Government, NHS Health Boards and Trusts to continually improve safeguarding of vulnerable groups such as children, young people and vulnerable adults across NHS Wales and other partnership agencies by linking up people, learning and resources.
The report expands on the highly complex, challenging deliverables achieved in 2020-21 through collaboration across the Network and the implementation of innovative new ways of working that was vital to enable the continued safeguarding of these groups and vastly reduce any negative effects that the lockdowns could have on them.
Dr Aideen Naughton, Service Lead National Safeguarding Team, at Public Health Wales, said: “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, as expected, the most vulnerable in our society became the hardest hit. For children and young people in the care of the local authority, living in foster-care and residential units, away from family and friends had a detrimental effect on their health and wellbeing. It was recognised that the pandemic reduced the usual support systems such as nursery, school, college, hobbies and visitation. Consequently these additional stressors held the potential for negative impact on vulnerable children’s wellbeing.
“This was something that we couldn’t allow to happen and so we all worked together to come up with new, innovative ways to continue safeguarding effectively through a global pandemic. By doing this we also identified that many of the new ways of working were beneficial and should continue into the future.
“For example, there were real challenges around medical assessments of adults. At the start of the pandemic it become clear that it was becoming increasingly difficult for prospective adopters and foster carers to access face to face medical assessments with GPs. The issues that arose were not just down to the ability to see people face to face and the risk assessments that needed to be in place to facilitate this, but also the reprioritisation of work by GP practices towards Covid priorities. We worked together to design an alternative process to combat the risk of a ‘bottleneck in the system’ and to ensure we maintained a steady flow of foster carers and adopters during the pandemic. Due to the urgency of the situation associated with maintaining foster carer levels, we developed an interim self-assessment medical assessment process for the fostering sector and ensuring the necessary safeguards were in place. We gained ministerial approval for interim flexibility in the current legislation to do this and developed a virtual medical assessment process for the adoption sector which was also used by the fostering sector once the interim period for self-assessment had ended, to ensure we could continue to assess prospective adopters and foster carers. On the whole the assessment process was maintained throughout the pandemic and we were able to maintain a steady flow of adopters and foster carers. We also ensured that Ministers prioritised these medical assessments by securing inclusion in the NHS-Wales COVID-19 Operating Framework.”
Utilising digital technology wherever possible was just one of the ways, NHS Wales were able to ensure services continued, with benefits including:
Ensuring that the Foster carers and adopter approval processes continued with sufficient robustness to enable quality short and long term placement options for Looked after Children and those with a plan for adoption
Use of phone and video consultations were trialled with Looked after Children, young people, foster-carers and social workers, presenting opportunities as well as challenges, with some children preferring communicating digitally
Digital communication also enabled some disclosures of historic child sexual abuse that may not have occurred with face to face health assessments
Looked after Children Reviews have been successfully carried out
Much of the work in Adoption and Fostering for Medical Advisers has continued as usual
Adoption Panels, Fostering Panels and meetings with prospective adoptive parents have continued virtually and it is likely this will continue.
Despite these increasing pressures on services, Welsh Ambulance Service Trust successfully transitioned to an all Wales digital safeguarding reporting system and upskilled an expanding workforce
Health Boards delivery of safeguarding training and supervision has transitioned to virtual platforms to ensure continuity of service and standards throughout the pandemic.
The NHS Wales Safeguarding Network Annual Report shares the ways in which the network has gathered key stakeholders to ensure that usual safeguarding care could be delivered, and that progress in safeguarding could still continue, despite the additional challenges and restrictions caused by the pandemic.