Greenwich LA case study: Mitigating the impact of the pandemic

Improving support to children and families to mitigate the impact of the pandemic

Covid-19 has presented many challenges to local authorities across the country. Greenwich has a rich historical and cultural heritage, yet it has pockets of deprivation and families living in stressful and challenging situations. The focus of the Early Years and Childcare Service throughout the pandemic has been to work together to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on children and families, and to support our childcare providers who have continued to provide a valuable service to families across the borough.

We know that many families have either lost their jobs, or had their working patterns disrupted through the pandemic – and this in turn has had an impact on demand for childcare. For parents in employment, we are seeing changes to working patterns with parents working a blended week, so are either using less childcare or are not taking up more than their funded entitlement. With many parents uncertain about employment opportunities for the future, they are not willing to make a firm commitment for childcare at the moment. Like other local authorities, we have completed our head count in childcare settings and we await analysis of what the true picture is across the borough. 

Working together to help families

Responding to the pandemic has meant we’ve had to focus our energies as a team – and we are proud that we’ve made some real progress in improving the support we offer to families. One area that we have worked on hard together is in improving take up of the two-year-old funded entitlement. The Covid pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on children from disadvantaged backgrounds and we were particularly concerned about the vulnerable children who should be entering the early learning system after Easter. 

By cross matching our social care database with the information from the head count of those in childcare settings, we have been able to identify those eligible 2, 3 and 4 year olds who are attending settings – and those that aren’t. This has meant that we have been able to flag those who are eligible for funded places. Our social care team has built good relationships with families in the area, so we are finding that early conversations with parents and carers about what they are entitled to is a good way of ensuring that more children can take up the opportunity of early years education. 

Improving childcare offer uptake; flagging support

The conversations we’ve had are really valuable in helping families access the most appropriate support. Sometimes the family might feel their child is too young to enter childcare at two years, but it means that we are able to flag other family services, such as access to children centre stay and play, rhyme time sessions or supporting them with home learning. It also means that we have already made positive connections so that we can flag funded entitlement once their child turns three. We are fortunate to have a fantastic family information service and the social workers have been able to proactively connect families to find a suitable childcare place. 

It’s been a huge piece of work and we are currently evaluating the project to see how many more children take up the offer of funded places. We are doing really well in Greenwich and have around 68% taking up the 2 year old entitlement and have been in touch with around 82% of families, so engagement level is high. Our aim is to improve this level further and to embed our joined up approach with social care into the way we do things so that we can see ongoing improvements in the future. We know that for our most vulnerable families, the challenges of dealing with older children can sometimes mean that their younger children get overlooked. Ensuring we have a robust system in place means that those young children receive early intervention so that we can make the most impact. 

Positive action in crisis 

We are so proud of how colleagues across the children’s partnership have responded to the crisis of the pandemic. We made sure every family with young children known to social care got a call once a week along with families with 3-6 month old babies and those regularly using our children’s centres. In four months over the first lockdown period around 16,000 facetime or phone calls were made with one to one contact with a parent. All of our children’s centre providers across the borough rallied around and provided a virtual offer – everything from dance workshops to cookery and craft sessions and singing groups. We also tackled food poverty by delivering hundreds of meals to local families. 

Confident and curious children

For us, the pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the invaluable contribution made by our early years providers. A parent at a children’s centre illustrates an example that demonstrates the impact of providers. She described how important childcare is to her and had been so grateful when she could return her child to her childcare setting once lockdown had eased. She explained how much less chatty her child had become while she had been working from home and unable to give her child the stimulation she needed. Now she has returned and the buzz she gets from that morning session is enough to sustain them through the day. The pandemic has really refocused parents attitudes to early years education and the value of a childcarer’s role in keeping small children excited and curious – and developing their confidence. We know there are challenges ahead, but we will maintain our commitment to supporting our childcare providers across the borough to continue the fantastic level of care they offer to children and families.