Our social media feeds have become a constant stream of people posting all the weird and wonderful things they are doing as we all remain indoors. On Twitter and Facebook, new connections are being made and new communities are flourishing. Our children, our parents have joined us in becoming experts at using Zoom to stay in touch with family, friends and colleagues.
But coronavirus has brought into sharp focus the many inequalities which exist in our society.
Our experience of the social isolation lockdown has created is not the same. Where we live, whether we have outdoor space to enjoy and whether we can work at home all make a difference to how connected we are.
The digital world many of us take for granted – and couldn’t do without during this crisis – doesn’t include everyone. For many families, Aberlour and Children 1st work with, life without any digital connection – no phones, no apps, no social media, no internet – is the day-to-day reality. For low-income families already experiencing financial hardship and poverty, the consequences of digital exclusion have never been more apparent.
During the pandemic, digital technology has been vital to maintaining contact and connections with families. Our approaches to providing family support services have had to adapt to the new world. Our operating models have changed to deliver support online wherever possible.
Digital technology can be a lifeline. It is critical to timely child protection work and ensuring services have sight of children where there may be concerns. It enables connection to wider family and communities and supports access to online systems, including benefits. And it is crucial to supporting children with their educational attainment, as not all schools are providing digital devices for pupils. But digital exclusion has created a significant challenge. Many of the families we work with do not have access to the devices required for us to remain in contact with them. Even if they do, they may be experiencing significant issues with data and credit. This has made it more difficult to ensure children and young people, and their families, get the support they need.
We have responded by working together to assess levels of need for technology among the families we work with. We have sourced laptops, tablets and phones for families who don’t have them so that they can stay connected with services and receive support. Already we have provided hundreds of families with equipment to make sure they can remain connected to our services, as well as their communities, family and friends. We are also delighted to have been able to work alongside the Scottish Government, through its No One Left Behind initiative.
This has helped us procure and distribute nearly 100 more laptops and 500 tablets to families most in need and at risk of becoming more vulnerable through digital exclusion. We will continue to work with the government and others to identify families facing digital exclusion and provide them with access to the digital technology and devices they need.
This support will make a massive difference to some of the most vulnerable families in Scotland – and prevent harm. Much of our work with families is the kind of early intervention which prevents families on the edge of child protection requiring more formal interventions.
Our experience of adapting our services to deliver support digitally and remotely in response to coronavirus has given us a glimpse of what family support services may look like in the future. It has also been a salutary reminder of the importance of digital inclusion. We must redouble our efforts to ensure all families have access to the appropriate technology. In 21st-century Scotland it is a necessity, not a luxury.
Mary Glasgow, CEO, Children 1st
SallyAnn Kelly, CEO, Aberlour