A WHOLE generation of children could be harmed permanently by the lockdown if young people are not put at the heart of the recovery plan in the UK, the Children’s Society has warned. It published the results of a survey on Thursday of last week, revealing that one in five young people in the UK now describe themselves as unhappy.
The survey, Life on Hold: Children’s well-being and Covid-19, uncovered a surge in the number of children and young people who said that they felt unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives. Girls were the most anxious: worried about missing friends, school, and the impact of cancelled exams on their futures.
More than 2000 parents and children took part in the survey, and consultations were carried out with a further 150 children aged ten to 17, from all over the UK.
The Society says that responses to its survey suggest that 1.1 million teenagers in the UK are unhappy. Half of all parents involved also said that they expected their children’s happiness to be harmed over the coming year.
Children living in poverty reported being most unhappy over the past few months. Nine in every ten children also said that they were worried about the coronavirus. Young people also reported feeling more uncertain about their futures. One boy, aged 13, said: “It has made me realise that the future is more unpredictable than I thought. I do not know what will go on in the future; so I am going to value what I have now.”
Some children did experience some benefits from the lockdown, including spending more time with family and being outside; and, for some, a relief from bullying.
The chief executive of the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, said that, even before the lockdown, children’s happiness was at its lowest level for a decade. While some children would bounce back, others would not, and the report warns that the crisis will have “lasting consequences”.
Without urgent action, the pandemic would harm a “whole generation of young people”, Mr Russell said. The charity is calling on the Government to put children at “the heart of national recovery”.
The Government has been criticised for failing to plan properly for the effect that school closures would have on children’s mental health. Earlier this month, Kent County Council reported the deaths of five young people with special educational needs during the Covid-19 outbreak, which an official linked to school closures. And Childline has reported a 37-per-cent rise in calls from children under 11 contacting them for support.
The policy manager at the Children’s Society, Richard Crellin, said that very few vulnerable children had been attending school during the lockdown, leaving them “hidden from view”, and that school closures led to a drop in referrals to child mental-health services.
“There were early warning signs of the damaging impact school closures would have on the mental health and well-being of children. Some schools were better prepared than others to provide continued support and education for children remotely. There should have been stronger contingency planning to ensure that children’s education could be delivered more consistently,” he said.
“We cannot turn back the clock, but it is crucial we plan for the future. By acting now, the Government can mitigate the long-term harm to children’s well-being this pandemic has caused.”
The survey calls for better support for children as they return to school; a national measurement of children’s well-being — as there is for adults — to help inform planning; and better funded early intervention strategies and financial support for low-income families.