With information about the coronavirus everywhere at the moment, the Department for Child Protection’s Lead Psychiatric Director Dr Prue McEvoy has explained some of the impacts it's having on children and young people in care, and carers in this short Q and A.

What has the impact of coronavirus been on children and young people in care?

It depends on individual circumstances, as children and young people in care have a range of different experiences.

Those living in foster care seem to be having similar experiences as many other families. There is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of information out there. It is important that carers monitor the intake of this information and ensure the children in their care are not exposed to this too often as it may trigger serious anxiety. For children and young people in residential care, it is important for carers to have clear conversations about what is happening and why there have been changes to the children’s lives and routines in order to keep them safe.

One of the main concerns carers and children and young people have been experiencing has been around education and whether schools will remain open. The clear advice from the state and federal governments has been that schools will remain open for children who need to attend, particularly those who are vulnerable. This is important for both carers and children and young people, allowing them to maintain some normality in a safe environment.

With major changes in how we live our lives and the impact of self-isolation or quarantine, how might this affect a child or young person's behaviour?

As humans, relationships are really important. I think we are all struggling to some degree with how our lives have changed. Children and young people who have come into care have experienced significant abuse and trauma and may be more vulnerable or sensitive to what is happening. I would encourage carers to help the child or young person find other ways (such as technology) to maintain relationships during this time with their peers, their social worker and other significant people in their life, to ensure they feel well connected and well supported. Case workers can help carers to arrange alternative methods of family contact rather than face-to-face.

It is equally important that carers maintain their significant relationships as well, to ensure they too feel well supported through this uncertainty. If carers are worried about how a child or young person has been affected by the coronavirus, we encourage them to speak to their social worker.

How should carers talk to children and young people about the coronavirus?

It is important that carers feel confident talking to the child or young person about what is going on in a developmentally appropriate way as well as taking the time to listen to their concerns, empathise and reassure them. We have children as young as pre-school age who have picked up that there is something significant happening in the world and they will need a bit of extra support through this time. To help guide these conversations, I would suggest that carers take a look at some resources that have been created specifically for different age groups. These can be accessed via the department’s online carer portal: www.childprotection.sa.gov.au/carers.