Supporting children and families through COVID-19

Published: September 5, 2022 · Updated: June 8, 2023

This research provides insights into the trajectory of COVID-19 in the community and community recovery, including how other jurisdictions are continuing to respond to impacts of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed significant pressure on children and their whānau, often placing young people and children at heightened risk. The compounding effects of the disrupted services during lockdowns, limited access to schools and other economic challenges require a holistic approach to supporting vulnerable children, young people and whānau.

This required Oranga Tamariki to consider crisis and recovery responses, while ensuring continuity in service delivery. Oranga Tamariki engaged EY to undertake some research to better understand:

  1.  The trajectory of COVID-19 in the community and community recovery.
  2.  Children, young people and caregivers and services that support them.

Key findings

The evolving COVID-19 pandemic, impact of Omicron and other evolving variants has placed significant impact on communities globally. The impact on vulnerable children, whānau and services is not yet fully understood. However, significant disruption and uncertainty has required services to learn to adapt and respond proactively.

In New Zealand, there is a rapidly evolving focus on recovery and approaches towards an endemic, including child and youth-centric social policy and community service responses.

Globally, child protection services and partner agencies are continuing to develop and refine their response and reflect on lessons learned. A more sophisticated digital approach to social work is emerging. Recovery is challenged with additional economic pressures, supply challenges and an increase in complex social and wellbeing needs.

The continued response to COVID-19 has highlighted the need for organisations to be resilient and adaptable to maintain statutory practice in child protection and youth justice. System-wide and child centric initiatives will be essential to recovery. Including the views of children and young people in service design and continuous improvement is critical.

Other research findings include:

  • Hybrid, agile working models are essential for service continuity. The emergence of a more digitally based and agile model of social work practice has some promising benefits, although face to face still has significant merit.
  • Localised, community based service delivery is critical, bringing together service providers, workers and volunteers. This could include establishing a shared workforce pool through hybrid working practices, collective action and information sharing. Enhanced intelligence sharing through data analytics across the sector will also strengthen responses and help anticipate the arising challenges of COVID-19.
  • Education is a mainstay of stability, wellbeing and social connection, and therefore we need to consider the role of schools as central to the child and family services ecosystem, the impact on individual children and the ability of parents to support children when school attendance is disrupted.
  • Culturally sensitive responses are most impactful when community-led, and should continue to underpin Oranga Tamariki’s approach to support and recovery.