Exhausted specialist staff who look after vulnerable youngsters in Yorkshire 'facing burn-out after pandemic pressures'

A health boss has warned that specialist staff looking after some of the most vulnerable youngsters in Kirklees are at the risk of “burn-out” due to pressure brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gill Addy, a designated nurse for looked after children and care leavers, described the pandemic period as “an extremely busy and unusual time” and that staff were “exhausted”.

A generic term, ‘looked after children’ describes children and young people placed into the care of local authorities such as Kirklees by order of a court.

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They can live within foster homes, residential placements, with their parents or with family/friends.

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They can be affected by poor levels of health as well as poverty, poor parenting, chaotic lifestyles and abuse or neglect.

During the pandemic some youngsters were also shielding, which presented harried staff with added responsibilities.

The most common reason nationally for children becoming ‘looked after’ is abuse and neglect followed by family dysfunction and family being in acute distress.

There were 669 children entering care in March 2020. That rose to a peak of 692 during the summer and again in December 2020, followed by a steady decline.

By March 2021 the number stood at 662.

There are approximately 250 looked after children from other authorities living in Kirklees in private/independent residential homes, 16-plus accommodation or with independent foster carers.

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Ms Addy said “significant changes” had been applied to day-to-day working that meant her small specialist team – a doctor, paediatrician, designated nurse and specialist nurses – had been redeployed.

The ongoing pandemic led to the closure of clinics meaning hundreds of health assessments had to be carried out remotely.

Staff also struggled to hit deadlines leading to minor “breaches” of record-keeping.

But she was keen to stress staff had managed to pull back hundreds of reports to ensure youngsters were not left without vital support.

Describing Covid pressures at a meeting of Kirklees Council’s Corporate Parenting Board (Nov 23) she cautioned: “I don’t think we’re out of it.

“Our data is not back at where it was before and what we’re seeing is burn-out … from the acute trust down to community nurses down to our team.

“Everybody is quite exhausted by the whole changes that everybody had to undertake.

“Doing things virtually, trying to get young people to engage on all those 700 and odd review health assessments over the phone or trying to get them to engage with you with a mask on and gloves and aprons.

“And that’s still going on now. We still have all that to use. I just think people have got quite burned out and we have to look after our team.”

She added: “I have had to put some things in place just to give them a little bit of leeway, which may be why their data is not back up where it was. But we always do them within the month they’re due – even if it’s a day or two out.

“I have got to protect them from that. There’s no criticism on them for anything that’s done a few days out of date. I need to look after them because I don’t want to lose these specialist people.”

There was praise for Ms Addy and her nursing team from senior councillor Viv Kendrick, the council’s Cabinet member for children.

She said: “It’s admirable that you have coped so well.”