The charity Railway Children is still working hard and finding new ways to support the UK’s most vulnerable children during the coronavirus pandemic, as Head of UK Programmes Gaynor Little explains

Since the last update on our work in the UK that Lucy Prior and I brought you on these pages, the world has changed beyond recognition. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has affected every one of us and our lives have been altered in multiple ways. But as a charity, there is one thing that hasn’t changed and in fact the need for us to reach and protect the vulnerable children we work with is now more critical than ever.

We know that the best way we can keep those children we see each week safe is by using a team of colleagues and agencies to meet the individual needs of each child. That is no longer a simple task. Safety nets these young people have relied on in the past are simply not operating at the moment due to the pandemic – schools are closed, drop in sessions are not running and so many of the other people and organisations that act as our eyes and ears are no longer able to help us in looking out for these children. So it is more vital than ever that we as a children’s charity are there for them at this difficult time. 

During this crisis, and because people are socially distancing or are staying in isolation, we have had to adapt and change how we engage with those young people using our service and their families. Our Project Workers have risen to this challenge admirably and become very creative in how they are engaging with children – WhatsApp, emails, FaceTime, text and phone calls have all become the standard tools we use to keep in touch with those who need us.

We are conducting daily welfare checks with many young people to ensure they are feeling safe and so we can be there to listen to their worries and see how they are coping or if anyone is ill at home. When there are issues, we are able to set up longer 1-1 sessions to talk these through or address specific problems or concerns they have.

Our unique partnership in the UK with British Transport Police is something that has been in place since 2017 and is growing each year. This relationship continues to be crucial as we know from conversations with BTP officers that concerns relating to young people and vulnerability have not gone away just because the county is on lockdown. 

At this moment in time, most people are remaining safely at home, in line with government advice. Sadly, for some of the young people we work with, home is not a safe place and for them to be told to stay there is simply not an option. In our work we talk about push and pull factors affecting the behaviour of vulnerable young people. When we look at the support we are offering we have young people who are pushed away from being at home because of domestic abuse, parental mental health, poor home conditions, neglect etc and some young people who are pulled away from home due to grooming, county lines, mental health needs, unhealthy relationships and sexual exploitation. All of these influencing factors are just as prevalent now as they ever were.

One case we have continued to work on during the coronavirus pandemic is that of a young girl who at 14 years old refuses to remain at home. She has been receiving our support for over nine months, but she continues to go missing till the early hours of the morning, associating with older males, drinking and putting herself at risk of extreme harm. The concerns we have for her have continued to escalate. Our support for her mum has continued, offering her someone to talk to, get advice and guidance from, and just to let her know she is not alone. Project staff have been having daily sessions with the mum and liaising with other services to create a plan for how to keep her daughter safe at this time. As our only referrals route is from BTP we continue to keep officers and the vulnerability unit updated on our concerns. 

Sadly, this girl is not the only young person going against guidance to remain at home and now as well as being at risk of harm and abuse we are facing the fact that many of the young people who we are working with are also now at risk of becoming seriously ill and passing that on to their families as well.

Another case we have been working on during this time is one that we had actually closed recently. The young person had completed their work with our project worker but has now been back in touch as they were struggling. The young person was battling with their anxiety levels and feeling low in mood due to being at home in the current circumstances.

They felt that they needed someone to talk to and to help them manage their feelings who would understand, and we are really pleased that this young person felt able to get back in touch with us and ask for support. This shows the strength and resilience of the young person in being able to do that and is also a great reflection of the skills and aptitude of our project staff. 

Our project staff always have challenging caseloads, supporting some of the most vulnerable young people across the three projects each week, but this current climate makes the work more demanding, more complicated and ultimately more crucial. Therefore, for us it is business as usual, and for as long as we need to, we will continue to do what we do.

For more information on Railway Children and their work in the UK please visit www.railwaychildren.org.uk

If you want to know more about our work or online training for the Rail Industry please email [email protected]

Gaynor Little is Head of UK Programmes at the charity Railway Children