The concerns of disadvantaged and vulnerable children should be front and center in any discussions of future lockdowns; to do this a comprehensive “Nightingale moment” recovery package is required to fulfill their aspirational and emotional needs, says the Children’s Commissioner Office.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England has today published a new report calling on the Government for a recovery packaged focused on supporting vulnerable children.
Outlined in the report were troubling signs that already long-established toxic home environments only got worse during lockdown, with in England: 2.2 million children living in risky home situations, 800,000 living with domestic abuse, and 1.6 million living with parents with severe mental health conditions.
“Unless the Government acts now, Covid-19 is in danger of becoming an inter-generational crisis, with the impact of the economic fall-out on parents determining the future prospects of their children. This would decimate the Government’s ability to level-up opportunity across the country in the way the Prime Minister has repeatedly promised to do” said Ms Longfield.
Childhood in the Time of Covid: economic insecurity, loneliness, and stress.
“We know that escalating family stress is likely to mean that greater numbers of children than ever before are exposed to the damaging effects of intense parental conflict” said Andrew Balfour, CEO of Tavistock Relationships, a charity specialising in couples counselling and psychotherapy, who also said demand for his charity’s services have increased over the last year.
Similarly, research conducted by the Children’s Commissioner found that high levels of anxiety experienced by children during the lockdown revolved around feelings of uncertainty – stress arising from questions of future job prospects, exam pressures, and correlated closely with the employment status of their parents - with children of whose parents were unemployed, or working away from home during the pandemic, being the mostly likely to report high levels of stress.
Future challenges highlighted in the Children’s Commissioner’s ‘Childhood in the Time of Covid’ report were the looming economic crisis, the stripping back of Covid-19 support for families, and the continuing atmosphere of societal anxiety.
But determined to ‘build back better’ the Children’s Commissioner argued that there needs to be ‘a comprehensive recovery package for children’ that includes a ‘pre-emptive package for welfare and housing for families who have built up rent arrears’, and the extension and further increase of the extra £20 for universal credit.
As well as a policy to put the needs of children at the heart of any future lockdowns, meaning that: a range of children services must remain open, parks must remain open to families, digital disadvantages must be addressed with an expansion of the Department for Educations laptop scheme, and that routine and rapid Covid-19 testing must be available to students and those working with them.
Importance of early intervention at schools
A recent study published in The Lancet found that during lockdown there was a 50% decline of diagnoses of common mental health problems, as well as a decline in first time prescriptions for those problems when compared to last year - as the public avoided contact with their GPs. This decline has led to fears of that lockdown hid emerging or historic mental health conditions behind closed doors.
“Schools are often both for toxic home environments and mental health a major point of identification of potential problems… lockdown made visibility of these issues much harder” said a spokesperson for the Children’s Commissioner’s office.
Stressing the interlocking variables of home environment, economic disadvantage, mental health, and consequentially educational attainment, the Commissioner’s report further recommended that The Spending Review should not delay the rollout of Mental Health Support teams in schools and that further investment is necessary for CAMHS services.
Addressing these issues are essential the report said, so to mitigate the damage that has already been done to vulnerable and disadvantaged children’s education attainment, in addition to their mental health.
Responding to the Commissioner’s report a Government spokesperson said that “supporting children and their wellbeing has been central to our coronavirus response, including getting pupils back to school. We have also invested significantly in charities working with vulnerable children and our £1 billion Covid catch up fund will help tackle the impact of lost time in education”.
Although within the report concerns were raised that the use of this £1 billion Covid catch up fund could be misapplied by buying school PPE or for adaptions to school buildings. When rather the study argued it should be applied to the education of students – especially for those who have already been significantly long-term impacted by this pandemic.
Previous Government strategies have also sought to address the challenges faced by vulnerable children, with a ‘multi-million pound’ project announced in May that will see social workers placed at 150 schools. As well as an extra £4.3 billion earmarked for council spending on social services, a ‘pupil premium’ fund of £2.4 billion for the most disadvantaged students, and through working with frontline charities.