Study considers the protection of vulnerable children during COVID-19

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Protecting the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children and young people in Scotland, during the COVID-19 pandemic, is the focus of a new University of Stirling study.

The project – funded under the Scottish Government’s Rapid Research in COVID-19 programme – will provide understanding of how social distancing measures and economic constraints have impacted the lives of vulnerable children, young people, and their families. That knowledge will help inform third sector social care responses, ensuring those in need of support continue to receive it.

Led by Professor Jane Callaghan, of the Faculty of Social Sciences, the research team will look at four different groups of vulnerable children and young people: those in foster, residential, or kinship care; those experiencing poverty; those with learning disabilities; and those experiencing domestic or family abuse.

The project will explore the implications of the pandemic and the resulting social isolation on wellbeing and child protection – and how care services are adapting their responses in order to mitigate those impacts.

Professor Jane Callaghan of the Faculty of Social Sciences

Professor Jane Callaghan, Director of the Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on children, young people and families. For those who might already be struggling, the virus is produces even more challenges. This includes loss of contact with supportive networks, potential volatility in confined households, the removal of the protection offered by schools and other services, and increased economic stress.

“We recognise that social care organisations are working closely with local authorities to safeguard vulnerable children and young people during this time, while also providing material and psychosocial support. We will work with a number of third sector organisations to explore the perceived impact on families, and identify how organisations have adapted their services, in challenging circumstances, to offset that impact.”

“We are pleased to be working with Scottish Women's Aid, Say Women, Aberlour, Parenting Across Scotland, and Adoption and Fostering Alliance Scotland. These voluntary sector partners are key providers of social care in Scotland, and their help in supporting the research will be invaluable.”

The research will identify gaps in support provision that may have arisen due to the impact of COVID-19, and assess the pandemic’s impact on the wellbeing and mental health of social care staff. It will also identify good practice and provide regular feedback to organisations to help further enhance their responses.

The project will be of great value to third sector and public sector social care organisations, informing both current and any future pandemic social care responses.

The £123,616 project will get underway immediately, with the research team using a combination of online surveys and one-to-one video interviews with vulnerable young people, parents, carers, and social care professionals to collect data.

The research team – comprising psychologists, social workers, and sociologists – includes: Professor Jane Callaghan, Dr Sarah Wilson,  Dr Sian Lucas, Dr Maggie Grant, Chris Gray, Nikoletta Komvoki, Judy Warburton, and Laura Belussi.

The University of Stirling is leading 10 major projects investigating the impact of COVID-19 pandemic after receiving almost £500,000 in Scottish Government funding.