Monday 19th April Two more weeks of Parliament before we prorogue for the Queen’s Speech which is due to happen soon after the local elections. It’s a busy time with lots of legislation needing to be passed, not least the Finance Bill which is crucial to making sure that all the spending announcements from the Budget are set on track.
I have a packed day including an online meeting a group of Special Guardians from across the country. These wonderful people have all taken on care of a related child when their own birth parents could no longer care for them. There has been a significant rise in the number of Special Guardians in recent years which is on the whole a good thing. It means the children can stay with a relative, rather than be placed in care or adopted. However, it can be quite a struggle for the family, especially as many Special Guardians are older grandparents. It was very useful to have this meeting to discuss what more we can do to support them. I also meet with stakeholders from Early Years nurseries and pre-schools. Things are looking better, with attendance up and cases of Covid much lower. We discuss the Covid testing regime and how this is helping to prevent asymptomatic spread of the virus.
Tuesday 20th April Up early into the Department of Education to meet with the Chief Social Worker, we discuss a long term vision for improving children’s social services and then a fascinating meeting with Occupational Therapists, Physio Therapists and Speech and Language Therapists. Many Children and Young People who need therapy will usually receive their treatments at school, especially if they attend a Special School. I am concerned to hear that even though schools are open for the therapists to attend, in some parts of the country children are still not getting their therapy. We discuss ways to help resolve this.
Wednesday 21st April After meetings in the Department I head into the Houses of Parliament for a debate that is happening about support for disabled children during the pandemic. We have done a huge amount to support them during this very difficult time, including keeping schools open for those with education, health and care plans, and increasing government funding for the Family Fund which enables those caring for a disable or critically ill child to access equipment to help them. However, it has been a very difficult time for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and their families. I am continually looking for ways to help them more, and to improve the system through a deep review which we are doing of SEND.
Thursday 22nd April A big speech keeps me in Westminster again today. It is the annual conference of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services which brings together the leaders of children’s services from all 151 local authorities across the country. The conference is happening online and I have been asked to speak. There is so much to thank social workers for, they have worked tirelessly to protect vulnerable children throughout the pandemic, there have been some very positive lessons learnt too and we are determined to make sure that we build back better. I discuss what we are doing to protect children from abuse, including sexual abuse, and our plans for the year ahead especially the Holiday Activities and Food programmes that are now running all across the country. I spend the evening with a great group of Chelmsford residents from the Chelmer Bridge Rotary Club who have zoomed together. We discuss a huge range of local and national issues, from the work on the Army and Navy to environmental projects, and of course issues affecting children.
Friday 23rd April After a catch up with the Vaccine Minister, my Chelmsford day starts in Galleywood where I am knocking on doors, catching up on people’s views. It is so good to be able to get back out again listening to concerns. I remain very concerned that some residents are still struggling to get through to the Sutherland Lodge GP surgery despite their new phone system. If this has affected you please do email me as I have asked the Clinical Commissioning Group to look into this in detail. I head off into a meeting with Homeground who act on behalf the freehold owner, Adriatic Land, at the Marconi Development. It is good news that at present, the buildings are considered safe for occupancy and do not need immediate work. I am meeting Bellway again this week to discuss full remediation options. A busy online surgery is followed by another session of door-knocking. Thank you to everyone who stopped to talk.
There are annoying queues at the Army and Navy, but one observant resident gets in contact to let me know that this is being caused by a problem with the phasing of the traffic lights. I immediately get onto the local County Councillor who calls the traffic control room and gets engineers onto the problem. I hope that this will make the situation a bit better as we continue to work on delivering a new junction.