I know that many of us are struggling in this lockdown, but it is making a difference. This week it has been good to see that the numbers of deaths beginning to decline, my thoughts are with the many people who are grieving, those who are worried and anxious. I am now getting used to having meetings online, using many different technologies including Zoom, Skype, WhatApp video, Facetime and Microsoft Teams. None of these are a good as a face to face meeting for really understanding how those in the room are feeling as well as what they are saying, but we are so lucky to have all this clever technology at this challenging time.
Monday 27th April I start every day with my caseworkers who have helped get advice out to thousands of individual constituents over the past six weeks. We go through the daily emails and work out the best actions to take on each which often involves raising the issue with other government ministers or finding local solutions. Thank you to everyone across Chelmsford who is helping at this time, especially those in the NHS and our supermarkets.
I start my ministerial day with a series of briefings on the various teams working on issues affecting vulnerable children and a by-weekly stock take that brings all the teams together. I meet with Magic Breakfast, who run breakfast clubs in schools. Over 800 schools are getting breakfast boxes out to vulnerable children, many of these are in the most disadvantages parts of the country. It’s great to hear their update and the work they are doing to increase this. I meet the Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions, as I want to make sure that those families that are now newly eligible for free school meals don’t face long delays. I catch up with the directors of Children’s Services from some of the leading local authorities across the country, hearing what social workers are doing on the ground to support Children in Need and listening to their thoughts for the future.
Tuesday 28th April I meet the Head for the Family Courts to discuss ways to ensure that adoptions and fostering approvals are not overly delayed during the pandemic, and then the Head of Ofsted, their inspectors are now working with the Department for Education all across the country helping social work teams in local councils. I have a lengthy meeting with the teaching Trade Unions who have helpful points to make about how schools can be safe when students do start to return. Then I join two round tables with foster carers from all across the country. Foster carers are fabulous people and they are often caring for children with challenging disabilities and needs. It is extremely useful to hear their feedback, and suggestions of areas we could give more support.
I take some time to watch parliament TV as the Domestic Abuse Bill is having its second reading today. This is a landmark piece of legislation which will make a huge difference to many vulnerable people. The Bill gets unanimous support from across all MPs. I am so pleased that even at this difficult time this work can progress. When I first became Children’s Minister I was given a wonderful book called “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” it is full of uplifting drawings and messages and many of those who work with very young children have told me how helpful it is in building self-confidence. I feel extremely lucky to meet with the author. BBC Look East Facetime me for a TV interview.
Wednesday 29th April I meet with representatives of nurseries, preschools and childminders. It is such an important sector for our youngest children and their parents. We discuss the various streams of government support and next steps to help them. Then I meet heads of Regional Adoption Agencies. These are quite new organisations which are doing super work to help improve adoption services, it is great to hear their enthusiasm. I join a cross government conference call of the Food Task Force which is working on getting food support to those who are vulnerable but not in the “shield” group of the most medically vulnerable. Radio 4 interviews me on the Free School Meal vouchers scheme. Over £35 million of food vouchers have now been redeemed by parents but there are still glitches in the computer systems as the demand is considerable. In the middle of the day we get the fabulous news that Boris Johnson’s partner, Carrie, has had a baby boy.
Thursday 30th April A stock take meeting with key officials, focusing on support for children with social workers and progress on free school meals, a presentation to Ministers from eight different government departments on the Early Years Sector, a detailed meeting on the deep review of the Care system for children, a catch up conference call with Essex MPs and the County Council, and a feisty call with the Chief Executive of the company running the Free School Meals voucher system. He’s promising that changes will be made to the computer system over the weekend. I give him until Monday to deliver but say that we are having to consider alternatives. After an uplifting clap for carers, Dr Ford and I return to our evening project. We’ve invested £200 in a home 3D printer and are joining the volunteer army of households across the country who are making PPE face shields for the NHS.
Friday 1st May I meet a group of those working in Children’s homes across the country. Staying at home is particularly hard for children and young people and especially so for those who are in children’s homes. I join the inter-ministerial meeting on Health, chaired by Matt Hancock where we approve the new project to pilot track and tracing. This will be crucial to un-locking the lockdown and beating the virus. We are going to need many millions of people to use the clever App based system. I join Kasper, a super six-year old and his dad. They have been doing fabulous podcasts for young and old during the lock down and I am honoured to be his “guest” for an interview. The podcasts are all about kindness and are called “Find Your Carrots”. I vote in the first MP’s online vote – very strange and not nearly as thoughtful as the usual voting system which involve MPs debating the issue, making their decisions and then walking physically through the voting lobby. At the end of the week I join members of the Chelmsford Conservative Association for a Zoom call. Many of them have been volunteering, supporting vulnerable people at this time. It is really good to hear their feedback on a wider range of issues. At the evening press conference we get the excellent news that the 100,000 tests a day target has been reached. Well done to everyone who helped deliver this.
Saturday 2nd May Great news – We’ve been working with a lot of children’s charities on projects to help vulnerable children and our £34 million funding bid has been approved by Treasury. This will make a huge difference!