This report provides an overview of the latest evidence and intelligence about the impact of COVID-19 and the response on children, young people and families, in particular, those experiencing the greatest challenges. Concerns have been raised about the impact on the rights of children and young people (CYP); and a review of learning from past pandemics has underlined the importance of involving CYP and developing responses tailored to their distinct experiences. This report follows on from two previous reports (published in April and May) and aims to inform national and local strategy and service developments.
Data on Vulnerable Children
Data collected over the 13 weeks since Easter shows that there have been significant reductions in child wellbeing concerns and child protection concerns/planning compared with the same period last year. However, on most measures, there has been an increase in activity in the last four weeks compared with the same four weeks a year ago. Proportionally, domestic abuse has been identified in more child protection cases than in the same period last year.
Children and Young People
- Children's Parliament survey (8 to 14 years): The majority of children who responded are faring well, enjoying good family relationships and feeling safe, but still a significant proportion (and more girls than boys) report boredom, loneliness and worries. However, for those respondents (and other children) who are not experiencing good family relationships and are not feeling safe, the potential consequences are significant and concerning.
- 'Lockdown Lowdown' survey (11 to 25 year olds): Respondents are most concerned about exams and coursework, and their future. There are also concerns regarding social relationships and mental health/wellbeing.
- The highest proportion of issues discussed with Childline counsellors are about mental health, family relationships, and suicidal thoughts and feelings.
- Key reported concerns for care experienced CYP are: poverty, digital inclusion for accessing learning and services, and mental wellbeing). However, some CYP in residential settings have reported increased stability/predictability.
- Key reported concerns for CYP in the justice system are lack of contact with others, isolation and access to resources; impacting on mental wellbeing and exacerbating pre-existing difficulties.
- We know that many families have adapted well and demonstrated resilience during the crisis, but for some there have been increased worries and stressors.
- Calls to Children 1st Parentline have increased and are commonly related to financial worries, struggles with having children at home and child behaviour and mental health and emotional wellbeing concerns, as well as issues about parental mental health and contact with children for separated parents. A number of parents have contacted Children 1st talking about the needs of children with additional support needs and how life has been for them at home without their usual supports. There has also been a reported significant increase in calls to the Lone Parent Helpline.
- Financial pressures have increased for many families on low incomes, and reported increased costs or difficulties with accessing resources to support their children's education. Eligible families valued the support towards the cost of replacing free school meals.
- Families with additional support needs have reported difficulties with: contacting /accessing services; missing the help from their support workers and advocates; and uncertainty about access to childcare hubs and school placing requests (with related worries about transitions).
- Key reported concerns for families with disabled CYP are: educating and entertaining children at home, managing children's health and wellbeing, decreased income; reduced support from services (following ELC and school closures); worries about protecting children from the virus; and transitions to ELC, school or adult services.
- Key reported concerns for kinship families are: mental wellbeing of CYP and distressed behaviours; mental and physical health of carers; financial worries; home learning; access to education hubs; safety of school return (where carers have health conditions); and worries about virus transmission within families.
- Domestic abuse support services have reported that children affected by domestic abuse have had more severe experiences during lockdown and a lack of access to safe spaces. A wide-range of abusive behaviours from perpetrators have been reported, related to child contact during lockdown. Specific challenges for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women were reported, related to habitual residency criteria, legal delays, access to universal credit, and reduced employment opportunities.
- Universal health services, including school nursing and Allied Health Professionals (AHP) community services for children, have largely continued throughout the pandemic. Coverage rates for health visitors in the earliest weeks following birth and uptake of immunisations have remained high.
- Children's attendance at A&E has been low.
- Local authority social work services have maintained regular contact with families already known to them. Reported concerns included where there was less support available due to a family member shielding and where children had minimal or no engagement with education. However, increased engagement and the development of trusting relationships were also reported; and that some children were more settled because of not being in school. A potential increase in new child protection concerns is anticipated as lockdown eases.
- Local authorities have adapted processes to maintain and support fostering, adoption and kinship care during lockdown; but some local areas report pressure on care placements and services at capacity.
- Youth justice practitioners have overcome barriers (e.g. lack of technology or privacy at home) to keep in touch with CYP. Face-to-face contact has been important for CYP where there are concerns for their welfare and wellbeing.
- Children's Hearings have used video technology to ensure critical and high priority decisions on statutory protections; but this has been about 30% of the normal capacity of hearings and there is a significant backlog of cases. There has been positive feedback about virtual hearings, but also challenges with connectivity and access to devices. Plans are underway for adaptation of physical hearings (allowing for physical distancing) and to also continue with virtual hearings.
- There are an estimated 29,000 young carers in Scotland. Although most local carer services have been unable to provide face-to-face support, most have been offering alternatives such as telephone counselling and online sessions.
- Third Sector organisations have responded quickly and effectively to meet a wide range of new and increased challenges for families and CYP, including financial assistance and advice, helplines, digital support tools and access to digital resources, emotional and practical support, and resources to support wellbeing of parents/carers and activities with CYP.
It is apparent that different impacts have been felt by children, young people and families in different circumstances, but there are number of core, key issues for attention including: income, emotional wellbeing and mental health, education, adaptations to service provision, relationships, and the impacts of the virus itself.