The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges for students, schools, parents and guardianship providers. With constant changes to both local and international rules and restrictions, all parties have needed to show the upmost flexibility and forward planning throughout.
During the pandemic, Bright World's standard guardianship provisions have been extended to include additional offerings, such as quarantine in carefully considered residential programmes and in risk-assessed host family accommodation. As isolation rules are now relaxed and all our host families are fully vaccinated, we now find that we are able, in some circumstances, to help schools with isolating students who have COVID-19.
Quarantine and isolation has, and continues to have, a significant impact on international students' well-being. Many have been unable to return home for many months due to extensive quarantine requirements in their own countries; and those in isolation have been under additional stress and have been in need of extra support.
Bright World's Isolation Care Plan helps us to monitor our students both physically and mentally during these unusual times.
Anyone testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK is advised to begin a period of self isolation, if they can and avoid mixing with others from the moment they find out or begin developing symptoms.
The UK Health Security Agency asks that children under 18 with COVID try to remain at home for 3 days. With this in mind, ideally students should remain at their boarding school, if they are there during term time and in their host family during holiday times.
Schools have had to introduce special provision for isolation; both inside and outside term time, to meet the needs of their international boarders.
If a school is not able to offer isolation into the holidays, or if they simply do not have the space and/or sufficient staffing levels to isolate a student safely in school during term time, then this presents a difficult situation and possibly a safeguarding concern for the student. At this point, Bright World will always step in and try to help with providing a risk-assessed host family for the isolation period required.
Not all host families are willing to take in contagious students. Maybe they, or a family member, have an underlying health condition or their home simply does not offer the right space to isolate a student safely. Host families who are willing to isolate the children under our guardianship need to pass a thorough Bright World Risk Assessment.
As not many of our host families qualify or have passed our Risk Assessment, distance from the school in question cannot be guaranteed when removing students for isolation.
Guardianship organisations, such as Bright World, have likewise needed to discuss the possibility of students contracting COVID-19 or starting to show symptoms while they are spending the holiday with a host family.
We have been very impressed that, while some families have chosen to withdraw from hosting temporarily, the vast majority have signed up to our COVID-19 Safe Plan and Charter and are still able to host during the pandemic.
With this in mind, parents can be assured that should their child fall ill under our care, they will be able to stay in their host family and be looked after for the duration of their isolation. This also means that only healthy students, showing no symptoms, will be returned to school after the holidays.
Teenagers generally take isolation in their stride. Provided they are in comfortable and familiar surroundings, with nice food and have Wi-Fi access. The majority of our students have coped surprisingly well.
For full-boarding students, school is normally the best place for them to isolate. They have their own room with staff on hand to help and reassure them and to see to their needs. If they are staying their regular host family during a school holiday and become unwell and need to isolate within the family, this environment is the next best thing.
One consideration when isolating in a family is that of shared washing facilities. Not all host families are able to provide students with an en suite bathroom and this means that they do need to be extra careful to clean the bathroom after them, to protect other members of the household.
Before they start their period of isolation, students are reminded that they will not be allowed to leave their room, other than to use the bathroom, and cannot socialise in person with the host family.
As soon as we hear that a student is isolating at school or that one of our students has tested positive while staying with their host family, we draw up a simple but thoughtful Isolation Care Plan for them. This helps us to monitor our student's well being, both physically and mentally.
As part of the Care Plan, we encourage students to establish a daily routine, giving structure to their day and helping it to pass more quickly and easily for them.
The host family will use WhatsApp, text message, teams or zoom to video call and communicate with the student throughout the day and make sure that they are comfortable. The student's Bright World Buddy will also make regular contact throughout their isolation and upload a general welfare report following each contact, which is shared with parents overseas.
Welfare reports and Isolation Care Plans are coordinated for all Bright World students, whether they are at a host family or in school. A friendly face at the other end of a zoom call can really help lift the spirits and also provides them with extra structure to their week.
We were extremely pleased to learn that the DfE has produced a toolkit for schools on supporting students through COVID and included specific advice on care during isolation. The toolkit also signposts mental health support and asks schools to arrange regular wellbeing check-ins with students. They also recommend that a buddy is assigned to students who are self isolating. This toolkit, much like the Bright World care plan, was produced to ensure that students receive the best support throughout their self isolation.