This is Children England's main page of information and support for the children and families voluntary sector during the Covid-19 crisis. We'll update it as regularly as we can but if you have any queries about the information here, or want to receive regular updates, please consider:

What's happening for front line staff in children and families services?

Children England is part of a project with many other children's charities to understand what issues are being seen by professionals working with children and young people during the pandemic. An ongoing survey is gathering input from as many front line staff as possible, and regular briefings will be published to share analysis of the issues emerging. These will inform communication with government departments and children's services. All briefings will be published here and the first three are now available.

  

What's happening to public service contracts?

Charities have had to adapt very swiftly to be able to deliver the support their beneficiaries need, including moving services online and introducing new urgent services such as food delivery. Those delivering public service contracts are particularly concerned that adapting to meet the new needs of their communities means they aren't meeting the specifications and targets set out in their contracts and therefore may not be paid by commissioning bodies, or have their contract renewed. 

We're hearing from members that some commissioners have responded quickly, clearly and supportively to providers, for example:

  • Being open to dialogue about what is needed by children and families right now
  • Confirming that payments will continue, up front where possible
  • Suspending targets
  • Providing extra resource where it's needed, eg for PPE

This means providers have been able to be responsive to people's needs and to quickly develop new forms of support that can be delivered remotely, or on the doorstep, or in new partnerships. The government's public procurement note from March supported this approach.

However, members also report that some commissioners have been much less responsive, both in communicating with charities about the needs of the community and in adapting contract specifications and support so provision can respond to those needs. Charities in these areas haven't been able to deploy the help they know is needed, and are facing financial risk as their contracts come to an end. This unequal and inflexible approach means communities are missing out on urgent services. 

What's your experience of contracts during the pandemic?

Children England is working with NCVO, Locality, Clinks and others to gather case studies of public service contracts during the crisis, so that we can demonstrate how more flexible agreements, driven by the needs of communities and supported by equal partnerships, can deliver better for the children and families we all work with. Read NCVO's blog about the changes we believe are necessary in commissioning and contracting, and use the form to share your experiences of delivering a contract during the pandemic - whether it's one you would like to see more of or one you have found unhelpful.

Children England has used the Inquiry of the Lords Public Services Committee to share evidence of the impact of good and bad commissioning on children's charities during coronavirus, as well as the long-standing strengths and weaknesses that have affected the ability of services to respond to changing needs recently. Watch Kathy give evidence at the session on Wednesday 24th June and watch this space for publication of our full written evidence when it's available from the Committee.

  

Never More Needed: the campaign for more support for the voluntary sector

This is a critical time for the children's voluntary and community sector. Services have been closed or significantly re-organised to minimise contact with families, staff are being furloughed and face to face fundraising activities have been suspended. And yet, while many charities are seeing a significant fall in their income and reduction in their staff capacity, the needs of children and families are growing, and becoming more difficult to recognise. Most children are now at home rather than school, many looked after by parents whose income has dropped, without the support of a children's centre, food bank or visit from a support worker that would previously have helped them through tough times. The economic strain, and the stress of social isolation, could push families into crises that damage children's wellbeing in the long-term, as IPPR's report warns.

It's almost unthinkable that whilst children are facing one of the biggest challenges of their life so far, many of the charities trying to help them are facing closure. It's also unthinkable that, when the effects of the pandemic itself are over, swathes of our brilliant sector might not have survived to nurture children and communities back to full strength. The majority of our members are anticipating a rise in demand for their services as lockdown eases and the pressure families have been under becomes clear. 

The most recent analysis (by Charity Finance Group, NCVO and the Institute of Fundraising) is that the voluntary sector is facing a £12.4 billion shortfall in income this year. If communities are to be able to rely on the social infrastructure they need to recover and thrive, government must address that shortfall and give charities security and certainty that they can plan for the future. 

Voluntary sector infrastructure bodies are campaigning hard for a package of support from the government, with calls from councilsSelect Committeesmainstream media and over 300 MPs and Lords.

 

Government package of support for the voluntary sector

  • £370 distributed by the National Lottery Community Fund for 'small, local' charities (the first tranch of this is now open for applications)
  • £360 million allocated through government departments to 'essential' services and those serving vulnerable groups (of which £2 million has gone to hospices)
  • As well as matched funding for public donations to the 'Big Night In' appeal on the BBC on April 23rd

These funds, once distributed, will be welcomed by the organisations receiving them. However, the support announced so far is not enough, and falls far short of recognising the diversity of charitable activity that is keeping communities and children safe and supported through this crisis. Read our full statement on it here.

As of June 25th, it remains unclear where and how all of these funds have been spent.

 

Select Committee criticises Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

On 6th May the DCMS Select Committee published an urgent and hard-hitting report criticising the Department's response to charities' requests for support. Clearly listening to evidence and proposals from individual charities and infrastructure bodies, the Committee is calling for:

  • A comprehensive stabilisation fund for charities, including those not working directly in response to Covid-19
  • Urgent review and adaptation to make sure existing support measures are accessible to charities, not just businesses
  • A new furlough scheme specifically for the voluntary sector, allowing staff to volunteer for their own charities

"The committee is concerned at this answer from the Secretary of State, given the scale of the loss the sector is warning of, or the impact it would have on those in society who rely on charities’ support. Moreover, charities are not the same as businesses, and thus to suggest that they should be treated the same ignores the fundamental principles upon which their work is based and the nature of their contribution to society. In particular, it undermines the efforts of the many charity workers whose commitment to serving the public is demonstrated by the efforts they are making, and risks they may be taking, to assist others. Many charities and voluntary organisations perform essential work that, while not directly tackling Covid-19, underpins the fabric of our society. Losing their services in either the short term or after the country emerges from this crisis will cause untold damage to individuals and communities. It cannot be allowed to happen."

The disappointing response to the report from the Department and reaction from the Select Committee is summarised in this Third Sector article.

  

Useful resources including funding

We've brought together many resources created to help professionals, parents and children themselves during the pandemic and lockdown. They range from online safeguarding to funding opportunities and organisational finances, and we will keep updating the list as resources change. We've moved it to its own page as it was getting so long!

On a bright note, here is Greater Manchester's statement on how it will work with and support the local voluntary sector. We urge every local, regional and national authority to follow their example!

And for organisations in London: check out 4in10's list of what the boroughs are doing to ensure charities and communities can support each other through the crisis.