“There has been an almost 20% rise in calls to the NSPCC since the start of the coronavirus lockdown from adults concerned about child abuse.” (bbc.co.uk, 30th April 2020)
There is growing concern in some quarters that children are amongst the most seriously affected by the arrival of Covid-19 and its impact on society. Some have been directly affected by contracting the illness themselves and more will have known the extreme emotional pain of losing a loved one but as yet an unknown number will have been inadvertently impacted, not by the disease itself, but by our attempts to contain and combat it.
Almost three months ago, with little notice, children were told that they would not be returning to school for the foreseeable future. They were separated from what they knew and to some, where they felt most comfortable and safe. Children were required to adapt almost immediately to what was to become their new normal; a life separated from friends, extended family and their teachers. For the majority of families, with an element of adjustment, this has been a manageable transition – a small price to pay for the health of their children and to help protect their community.
What was clear immediately to those working with vulnerable children and is now becoming apparent to the rest of society, is that this would not be the same small price for all families and the cost would weigh heaviest on the young. Some families and some young people were already struggling to cope with the challenges they faced before lockdown and were simply not equipped to deal with our “new normal”. As these more vulnerable children increasingly lived their lives behind closed doors, the new focus is becoming the condition of their mental, physical and emotional wellbeing at home, with the potential for long term harm arguably higher than the threat originally presented by Covid-19.
With fewer numbers accessing the school hubs which had been established to ensure continuity of education and care for vulnerable children as well as the children of key workers, there is a question mark on who is getting lost in the cracks. In some cases, parents will be too afraid of infection to send their children to school or will have alternative arrangements at home, in other instances there may be a sense of shame in their children being deemed “vulnerable”, but the end result is that some children who had been identified as particularly needing additional support have not been accessing it. In addition to the children who were already expected to access school hubs, there are others who may not have been known to the authorities prior to lockdown and still more whose situations may have been significantly exacerbated by the economic and emotional fall-out from the events of the past few months.
The pressure on parents and carers who have lost jobs or have greatly reduced income can have extreme effects on mental health, alcohol and drug abuse, leaving vulnerable children at the core of this pandemic. In addition to the increase in calls to NSPCC, there have been reports of 25-50% increases in pre-lockdown call levels to Domestic Abuse support lines. These kind of statistics paint a startling picture of the environments in which some of our most vulnerable children have been spending lockdown. The un-noticed ones. The ones not yet on the child protection register. Social workers and child protection officers would not consider them as at risk and even if they were made aware, a combination of a lack of PPE equipment and shortage of staff, means these children would be unlikely to receive the help they so desperately need.
The Scottish Government’s own Vulnerable Children Report of the 15th of May stated: “Over the last three weeks, it is clear there has been significantly reduced activity, compared with the same period last year:
- 12% reduction in child wellbeing concerns being generated by Police Scotland
- 17% reduction in child protection concerns being generated by Police Scotland
- 20% reduction in cases where Health, Police and Social Work have identified sufficient evidence to consider planning a child protection investigation
- 26% reduction in the number of children identified as needing child protection plans
- 47% reduction in the number of children becoming 'looked after', with a 77% reduction in the number becoming looked after at home.”
Ahead of schools returning to some semblance of normal service in August, a critical consideration for educators will be that many children’s mental and emotional health may have been affected by recent events. We should not be making educational attainment the main priority upon resumption of school based learning, instead I believe we should see a focus on emotional well-being and how children will feel building relationships again with their peers and teachers. Those schools who are trauma-informed will be leading the way in creating a nurturing environment where all children can feel able to learn, and not just what is on the curriculum but, more importantly, how to be children again.
This is one of a number of online events on issues affecting children and young people throughout Covid-19. Please subscribe to www.redharbour.org and we will keep in touch with you on their development.