Exploring local responses to COVID-19: Drawing out the early lessons


COVID-19 Coronavirus I Free CC0 High Quality Public Domain Images ...COVID19 is having an unprecedented impact on society. This impact is particularly stark for children, families and frontline workers, particularly those living and working in areas of significant disadvantage.

As a response to the urgent needs of children and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic, services and organisations have had to adapt rapidly; putting new arrangements into place and adapting existing ones.

The Scottish Government recognises that frontline workers and organisations in the neighbourhood context are key to this response, particularly in the immediate and medium term. This is demonstrated by the decision of the Scottish Government to provide additional funding at the local level for public and third sector and community groups in its COVID-19 support package through the Communities and Local Government Directorate.

Children's Neighbourhood Scotland logoResearch by the Network for Social and Educational Equity and Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland seeks to understand how local responses are working in a rapidly changing context and provide insights that can support the next phase of COVID-19 action at both local and national levels.

Aims and Objectives

Aim: Collect empirical evidence to inform national and local policy and practice about service responses and experiences of children and young people living in high poverty settings to the COVID-19 virus pandemic.  

Objective 1: To construct an exploratory research study of service responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in Children’s Neighbourhood Scotland (CNS) sites.

Objective 2: To construct an exploratory research study of the experiences of children and their families to the COVID-19 pandemic in CNS sites.

Objective 3: To generate policy and practice briefings to influence national and local policy and practice.

Research Questions:

(A) Service response and delivery

  • How have different service providers responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Which responses aim to meet the needs of families and children living in poverty?
  • What are the key challenges that services have faced in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • What are the key priorities for service providers to support the next phase of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic?

(B) Families and children’s experiences

  • What are the key challenges that families living in poverty are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • What supports are working well for families and their children and where could improvements be made?
  • How are children, young people and their families reacting to and coping with social distancing and isolation?
  • What is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and young peoples’ learning, health and wellbeing?

Research Design

This is a proposed multi-method study in which the research will be conducted over two phases:

Phase 1: Service responses to COVID-19
In Phase 1, qualitative interviews will be conducted with representatives from these service/sectors:

  • Leaders in the public and third sector engaged in responding to the needs of vulnerable families during the COVID-19 crisis (e.g. local authority, health, education and community)
  • Operational staff in a coordination role (managers, development workers and intermediaries)
  • Frontline workers (public and third sector)- professionals providing direct support to vulnerable families and children in education, and community sectors (e.g. teachers, youth workers, family support)

The research will examine service responses and experience at two spatial scales: local authority-wide and specific responses to needs identified in Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland sites. Interview samples will be weighted towards front-line professionals working at a neighbourhood level.

Phase 2: The Impact of COVID-19 on children and families

The second phase of the research will be planned as phase one develops. The design will be based on findings from the first phase.


This exploratory study will use mixed method research to map the needs and service gaps for vulnerable families in high poverty settings. 

Statistical data on our neighbourhoods will be used to identify vulnerability to crisis using existing secondary data. We aim to use ScotPHO’s COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index and its underlying data on social, clinical and economic disadvantage at a local authority and CNS neighbourhood level.  

Qualitative research will examine the lived experience of the pandemic from the perspective of service professionals at different levels of the local governance system and the experience of families (most likely through case study data from service professionals).  Service professionals will be asked if they can provide anonymised case studies of families for secondary analysis. Interviewees will offer a choice of telephone interview or using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)-mediated technologies (e.g. Zoom).

Read about Collaborative Action Research in the time of COVID-19 here.

Insights – our briefings 24 April 2020.

Briefing part 2 – ‘deepening crisis’ for families.

Briefing part 3 – the third sector’s crucial role.

Briefing part 4 – lessons from the hub schools.


Archibald, M. M., Ambagtsheer, R. C., Casey, M. G., & Lawless, M. (2019). Using ZoomVideoconferencing for Qualitative Data Collection: Perceptions and Experiences of Researchers and Participants. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406919874596



We are the Network for Social and Educational Equity, based in the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change at the University of Glasgow. We work with governments, educational institutions, local authorities and teachers to promote educational change.

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About NSEE

The Network for Social and Educational Equity (NSEE) is part of the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change (ROC) at the University of Glasgow.

It works in collaboration with schools, local authorities, Education Scotland and partner services to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap in young people’s education.

NSEE helps schools to use appropriate evidence and data within collaborative working approaches to critically examine context and current arrangements, make changes based on evidence, monitor the impact of these changes and reflect on what they learn.

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