Sunderland children's homes left unscathed by pandemic

Children’s homes in Sunderland have managed to get through the coronavirus outbreak largely unscathed so far.

Thursday, 16th July 2020, 12:20 pm
Updated Thursday, 16th July 2020, 12:21 pm

According to children’s services chiefs for the city, no youngsters in residential facilities have tested positive for COVID-19.

And while some members of staff have, bosses insist the numbers have been low enough to have had little or no effect on safe staffing levels.

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“We’ve had testing of children and young people within residential children’s homes and none of our children have tested positive,” said Martin Birch, director of Social Care at Together for Children (TfC), which runs children’s services in Sunderland.

“While we’ve had one or two staff test positive, none were working in the children’s homes at the time the test was taken, so there was no concern about cross-contamination either.”

He added: “We’ve been able to maintain staff levels across the homes and it has not had a significant impact, unlike in some neighbouring authorities.”

Birch was speaking at a meeting of Sunderland City Council’s Corporate Parenting Board, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

There are currently about 600 looked after children (LAC) in Sunderland, a rate of 107 per 10,000 – higher than the national average, but lower than the regional figure.

Dr Sarah Mills, a paediatric consultant at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust (STSFT) and Wearside’s ‘Designated Doctor for Looked After Health’, told the meeting health workers had predicted a ‘surge’ in the number of LACs during lockdown.

But TfC claimed it had been able to avoid this by maintaining ‘front door services’ and monitoring of vulnerable and at-risk families during the crisis.

Jill Colbert, TfC’s chief executive, said STSFT had been ‘very helpful’ in making plans for how to support children whose care could have been affected by coronavirus.

Dr Mills added: “We were one of the only areas in the UK offering testing to LAC at the beginning of lockdown, to aid placements and offer support to carers for children with symptoms so we could fully understand their health needs.

“That was accessed by a small number of children but it was a very worthwhile service.

“STSFT listened and addressed concerns at a time when it wasn’t on the national agenda.

“I think LAC and residential placements were overlooked by the government in this pandemic.

“We’ve talked about care homes, but no one has got [children’s] residential placements on the agenda.”

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