Coronavirus Spotlight: five lessons learnt so far

Tom Quilter, Senior Development Officer - Information, Advice and Support, reflects on how the work of those supporting children with disabilities and their families, has changed because of Covid-19.

As the initial rush to adapt to the pandemic panic slows and we anxiously await the new school year, it feels a good time to reflect on some of the lessons we’ve learnt over the last four months.

A friend of mine calls these ‘shower thoughts.’ The new perspectives that spring to mind during those fleeting moments of calm. Having just come back after some time out of London, and feeling a little calmer myself, here are five of my shower thoughts that may resonate with you too:

1) We knew the law was complex. This has highlighted why.

Never again will I complain about needing to learn case law on top of guidance, legislation and the code of practise. Without legal tests, complexities and detail, we’re left with thousands of people trying to decipher what ‘reasonable’ means to them individually. I never thought I’d say this, but the more detailed, the better. It helps us all to be on the same page and have the same expectations of the system.

2) As professionals, to be able to do the best for children, young people and families, we also need to do the best for ourselves.

This has been hard. We are creatures of habit and this virus has thrown us out of our comfortable routines. We’ve had our lives turned upside down, with health and social anxieties to worry about on top of our normal stresses. For many of us, it has meant learning whole new ways of working. It has been stressful, tiring and difficult. I know this has impacted on my own ability to work at the level I expect of myself. But there is something positive to take from this too. When working with families and professionals who are stressed, tired and finding things difficult, we can remember how we felt during these tough times and modify our expectations.

3) To be able to do the best for children, young people and families, we also need to do the best for each other.

I’ve missed my colleagues. I’ve missed travelling to meet with services across the country. I’ve missed being able to ask someone next to me something minor that doesn’t warrant a discussion via phone, Teams, Zoom, or Skype. In short, I’ve missed everyday contact with people. I need to remember that I need other people to inspire and support my working day. You might too. We have to factor this in to our new ways of working.

4) That reasonable adjustments are much more reasonable then they seemed.

We found ourselves unable to communicate face to face, so we attended meetings virtually. We found ourselves unable to travel or even leave the house, so we worked from home. We found ourselves unable to enjoy social time with our colleagues, so we booked in time to meet up online. We found ourselves unable to get a haircut, so those of us who didn’t just let it grow, cut our own or got partners and friends to do it for us (with varying degrees of success). My point is that we’ve all made many adjustments swiftly, cheaply and easily. We ALL need to remember this the next time a child or young person with SEND, or their parents, tell us they can’t join a meeting or contribute to vital paperwork because of travel, the environment, sensory needs, time pressures, social obligations or work commitments. The many adjustments we were able to make as our own world was restricted should inspire us to make those adjustments for them.

5) That, if we weren’t already, we should be proud of ourselves and the sector that we’re working in.

We have, for a short period, felt what it’s like to be isolated, anxious and have our lives turned upside down. We have learnt how much we rely on our networks, our friends, our families, our colleagues. But we have learnt how to adjust.

We should make sure we don’t lose sight of this learning and make best use of it to improve what we do. We know just how vital it is to continue being a flexible, positive and adaptable sector because we know how much those we’re working with rely on our support and services. Above all we mustn’t let things go back completely to what they were. We should go back better.