Managing Complexities of Risk is Key to Lockdown Conundrum

When I was a newly qualified social worker, I worked with a young person who had just moved placement. She was unhappy there, and in a café in Glasgow City Centre one Friday afternoon, told me she intended to spend the weekend with her friends. I tried to get details, information, to re-assure myself she would be safe, but she wouldn't tell me. I told her I would need to report her missing to the police. She understood. Despite my attempts at persuasion that she should go back to her placement, she left. 

I worried about her that weekend. Was she safe, would she associate with people who were bad influences, would she make the right choices. On the Monday, she returned, but was different; refreshed, and more positive. She told me that weekend was what she needed, and had meant she was more able to cope. 

This experience taught me a valuable lesson. Trying to reduce or suppress risk in one area, often can lead to an increase in risk in another. If she had gone back to her placement that weekend and not absconded, the risk that weekend may have reduced but she may have also been less able to cope with a placement where she was struggling to settle. 

As we have a nationwide debate about how we exit the current lockdown measures, that lesson resonates with me. Lockdown may reduce transmission of Covid-19, but the impact on peoples' mental health, those at risk of domestic violence, and children at risk of abuse can be massive. Many local authorities have massively reduced intervention with vulnerable people, while emergency legislation has reduced the duties usually incumbent on social work teams. The closure of schools has had a massive negative impact on children at risk; schools are often the first place where issues are identified, and this is currently a support not available. 

While Government ministers will speak at press conferences about the statistics in relation to Covid-19, similar statistics will not be read out about increased suicide attempts, or people killed by their partners, or children who are being abused. We cannot let people at risk down simply because we're not looking. 

For that reason, Governments need to be viewing risk, both from Covid-19 and the lockdown, in the complex, multi-faceted manner it deserves, and making decisions with acknowledgement of these complexities. Risk from Covid-19 in care homes is sadly likely to be very high, but in schools less so. However, the risk of lockdown for vulnerable children and adults could be massive. When this is over, as a society we need to look back and make sure no-one was left behind.