TWO children’s social workers have explained how they keep in touch with young people in Carmarthenshire during the coronavirus lockdown, but said it wasn’t the same as face-to-face contact.

Caroline McCaffery and Andrea Greenfield said visits still took place on a priority basis – and following a risk assessment – but that the number had changed.

Miss McCaffery said video technology such as WhatsApp and Skype has been really useful to contact families.

She said: “That’s a massive part of us being able to continue our role but you miss out on that body language, and what’s not said.”

Miss McCaffery, who is assistant team manager for the west child care team, said personal protective equipment was available if staff needed it for home visits.

Before a visit, she and colleagues ask a family they’re going to see if they’ve had any Covid-19 symptoms, among other questions.

Her colleague, Mrs Greenfield, said social workers were attuned to “non-verbal interactions”.

“You automatically pick these up when you go to someone’s home,” she said.

That could be a feeling of tension, she said, which might not come across on a Skype call.

Mrs Greenfield and Miss McCaffery said they have built up relationships with the families they help.

“The response from some of the families has been brilliant,” said Miss McCaffery.

Mrs Greenfield added: “There is a lot of understanding. They’re worried about our well-being.”

Asked how the children they help were coping, Mrs Greenfield replied: “It’s a mixture. Not having direct contact with their parents (usually at a contact centre) can have an impact.

“They think, ‘Is there something wrong?'”

Miss McCaffery agreed.

“Lots of kids are worried about how their mum and dad are doing,” she said. “And they all miss their friends.”

Miss McCaffery also said education was an area some children were struggling with, although foster carers were “brilliant” in helping out.

She said vulnerable children everywhere were potentially at a greater risk due to the lockdown.

Carmarthenshire Council has seen a slight increase in children’s social care referrals in recent weeks, but a spokeswoman said it meant people were asking for and getting help.

She also said many vulnerable children were visiting childcare hubs and receiving support there.

Miss McCaffery said a lot of advice was given to families at the start of the lockdown.

Food parcels, advice about paying bills, electronic devices with video calling technology and help with medical visits have also been provided.

Miss McCaffery said at-risk children would still be taken to foster carers if it was urgent, and said she has taken part in remote court hearings for things like special guardianship orders, and care and placement orders.

She and Mrs Greenfield said working from home had its challenges, with some colleagues having to shield for various reasons, and others with young children of their own at home.

“I’ve got two kids – aged 15 and 12 – and both of them understand my role to some extent,” said Mrs Greenfield.

“They’re not running through the room creating havoc when I’m on a call!”

Miss McCaffery said her kids were older, and normally spent half their time with her.

But that was not the case now, because she didn’t want to increase any risk of exposure to Covid-19.

“I have had to take a difficult decision,” she said.

The duo said the teamwork and creativity shown by colleagues in such trying circumstances had been exemplary.

“That has come down from management down,” said Miss McCaffery.

“But I do miss the direct contact with kids we help – the sort of stuff you get into this job to do.”

And they both said they missed the office, the camaraderie, the shared understanding, and just the chance to unwind on the way home from work.

“We really benefit from having our colleagues around us after a difficult visit,” said Miss McCaffery.