Yesterday, the DfE published another guidance paper around their announcement to close schools in response to the coronavirus outbreak. This time it was in respect of how the decision affects vulnerable children.

Who are vulnerable children?

The DfE define vulnerable children as ‘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.’

Children who have a social worker include those who have a child protection plan and who are looked after by the local authority.

Other vulnerable children may include those assessed as being in need or who meet the definition in section 17 of the Children Act 1989.

Who does the guidance apply to?

Pretty much every school in England, including local authority-maintained schools and academies, registered childcare providers, pupil referral units and further education colleges.

What does the guidance say about children who are supported by the social care system?

The guidance aims to answer the most common questions that schools, local authorities and parents want to know in light of last week’s announcements.

It covers advice around eligibility, underlying-health conditions, social stigma, the role of social workers and continuity plans around staff shortages.

It is expected that vulnerable children who have a social worker will attend school, as long as it is safe for them to do so. In the case that parents don’t wish their child to attend, schools and the social worker should explore this further with the parents and look to resolve any concerns as best they can, including concerns around coronavirus.

One of the most important topics covered is the continued monitoring of vulnerable children’s attendance and ensuring they remain protected. The expectation is that schools should have a process in place to check on the welfare of any child in need who does not attend on any day.

What about children with education health and care (EHC) plans?

The guidance around children’s EHC plans requests that a much more collaborative effort is engaged between schools and educational providers, local authorities and parents in order to form a risk assessment.

The DfE advise on a number of factors to consider and suspect that children will fall into one of two categories, namely those who can and those who cannot be supported at home and would otherwise be at significant risk if their education, health and care provision and placement did not continue.

Guidance is also provided around the level of provision expected although this should be flexible and agreed with all stakeholders. Again, the importance of working together and taking a joint approach is emphasised in order to obtain the best outcome.

What does the guidance say about special schools and colleges?

For special schools and colleges, closures should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. It is recommended that the schools work closely with the local authorities, Public Health England, the Clinical Commissioning Group and parents and carers to conduct a risk assessment and identify how best to enact self-isolation measures.

How does the guidance apply to children in alternative provision (AP) settings?

In short, the DfE state that, because AP settings serve a small number of children and young people, a high proportion of whom are defined as vulnerable, they are already well-placed to cater for the needs of the children that would be difficult to replicate elsewhere.

In lieu of the above, many AP providers will remain open where it is feasible to do so.

You can read the guidance in full here.

To view our video update on COVID-19: DfE ‘Guidance on vulnerable children and young people’, click here.