Coronavirus (COVID-19): children, young people and families - evidence and intelligence report

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.

B. Views and experiences of children and young people

i) The early years

We currently know very little about how COVID-19 has been affecting the health and wellbeing of younger children in Scotland. Public Health Scotland have been running a new survey to seek to address this. The COVID-19 Early Years Resilience and Impact Survey (CEYRIS) undertaken with parents and carers of children aged 2 to 7 asked about experiences of life at home during the pandemic and how this may have affected the health and wellbeing of families. The survey was live from 22 June to 6 July and as of 30 June, there had been almost 14,000 responses. Analysis is currently underway.

ii) Children and young people aged 8 to 25

Findings from The Children's Parliament 'How are you doing' survey with 8 to 14 year olds[b] were published from the initial survey in April and from the following survey in May. The key findings reported in May[12] were:

  • A high majority agreed that they have fun things to do (75%), enjoy learning new things (78%), can be creative (92%), and know there are things they're good at (92%), but a significant proportion also report feeling bored (58% of girls and 49% of boys).
  • Most children reported they could access information (89%), express opinions/ideas (77%) and feel there rights are respected (80%).
  • Over half reported feeling cheerful and in a good mood (61%), and higher proportions reported having plenty of energy (78%), feeling they would be ok, even if they're having a difficult time (70%), making healthy choices (73%) and getting enough exercise (73%). However, a sizeable proportion do report often feeling lonely (23% of boys and 31% of girls).
  • For respondents to this survey, most enjoy being with their family (92%), their family gets along well together (80%), they feel safe at home (96%) and online (82%), and feel happy with (90%) and supported (83%) by friends. However, we know there are significant concerns where children are not experiencing good relationships or feeling safe.
  • Between April and May, there was an increase in the number of worries identified by children. Girls were more likely to identify more worries than boys. In May 48% of girls identified 4 or more worries compared to 38% of boys. The two most common worries were about the health of their family (61%) and about the future (55%).
  • A high proportion have someone in their family (92%) and outside their family (77%) to talk to about their worries.
  • In terms of what helps children currently feel good, fewer reported that doing school work (26%) or home learning (33%) helped, and as might be expected, parents/carers were most reported (81%) to help children feel good. High figures were also reported for siblings (60%), friends (61%) and pets (54%) helping children to feel good.

The findings of the Lockdown Lowdown survey[c] of 11 to 25 year olds published in May[13] found that overall:

  • Around half of respondents stated they are moderately or extremely concerned about exams and coursework.
  • Two-fifths of respondents stated they are moderately or extremely concerned about their mental wellbeing. 
  • Two-thirds of respondents stated that they are moderately or extremely concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their future. 
  • Two-fifths of respondents are not confident about accessing the information on mental health, and over half don't know where to access information on financial support.
  • Respondents stated that decision-makers should improve the impact on education and make restrictions even stricter. 

There were few significant differences in the views and concerns of young people about the impact of COVID-19 across different demographic groups. There were no differences in concern between male and female respondents. Young people who identified as non-binary and those in mixed/multiple ethnic groups were less confident in how to access information. In terms of differences by area deprivation, young people in the most deprived areas were slightly more concerned about the mental health and wellbeing of others than those in less deprived areas. Young people in less deprived areas were more concerned about educational outcomes and social relationships than those in the most deprived areas.

In terms of differences by age, younger people (aged 11-15) were more concerned about social relationships than older young people. Those aged 16 to 18 year olds were more concerned about educational outcomes and over 18s were more concerned about mental health and wellbeing of others than other age groups.

Findings from an additional weekly condensed survey[d] found that overall:

  • 97% of respondents are concerned about the impact of coronavirus on their future
  • 85% are concerned about their social relationships
  • 77% are concerned about their mental health and wellbeing
  • 57% are concerned about the ability to access their rights as a young person.

iii) Childline

NSPCC Scotland provides monthly briefing on issues children are raising with Childline counsellors.[e] There has been a small increase in the number of counselling sessions provided by Childline since lockdown (April was 5% up on pre-lockdown and May was 1% down on April).The proportion of counselling sessions about mental health has increased from 33% pre-lockdown to 37% in May 2020. Mental health remains the top concern for children and young people contacting Childline. The 2nd main concern is about family relationships which has increased from 10% pre-lockdown (when it was the 3rd main concern) to 13% in May 2020, when it overtook suicidal thoughts and feelings to become the 2nd main concern. Whilst the proportion of counselling sessions about most types of abuse have remained low, they have overtaken some of the other main concerns: sexual abuse (up from 9th place to 6th), physical abuse (up from 10th place to 7th), emotional abuse (up from 14th place to 10th). The number of counselling sessions about domestic abuse have increased from an average of 212 over a 30-day-period pre-lockdown to 264 in May (up 25%).The main concerns that have decreased are: bullying (6th place to 9th) and school/education (8th place to 12th)[14].

iv) Care experienced children and young people

Who Cares? Scotland published a report[15] on the impact of COVID-19 on care experienced people in April and May based on intelligence from its ongoing work which includes advocacy support, helpline, and participation activities. The following three key themes were identified:

  • Poverty: Many care experienced people (including care experienced parents and kinship carers) were struggling financially, including not having enough money for food. This was partly due to the increased costs of food and utility and digital access bills during lockdown, and partly because some care leavers, living independently for the first time, were not being adequately supported during this transition and are struggling to manage their finances. Reductions in access to financial support and delays in the social security systems were reported.
  • Information and participation: Concerns were raised about a lack of digital access; leaving some young people feeling isolated and without a voice, and preventing them from accessing services and education.
  • Health and wellbeing: Increased existing, and new, mental health concerns (associated with social isolation, bereavement and tensions within personal relationships) were reported, particularly for young people living in temporary accommodation away from their usual support networks.

The Centre for Excellence for Children's Care and Protection (CELCIS)[f], has noted that the COVID crisis is likely to have been especially challenging for care-experienced children and young people with histories of unresolved trauma in their families of origin, whose emotional foundations and sense of safety are already fragile. In particular, for those who are living at home in difficult circumstances, adolescents seeking to manage their distress through self-harming behaviours, and care leavers whose networks of support are limited. CELCIS reports, however, that mental health support has been hard to access at this time when wellbeing and mental health issues are exacerbated. They note that there have been reports from local teams of an increase in self-harming and hospital admissions.

v) Young people leaving care

The Scottish Throughcare and Aftercare Forum (Staf) undertook work[g] with practitioners and managers to explore their concerns around the impact of COVID-19 on care leavers. Feedback was also sought from young people themselves. The issues identified included:

  • Loneliness, social isolation and mental health
  • Digital exclusion
  • Food poverty
  • Financial precarity, access to social security, bills and debt
  • Childcare provision for care experienced parents

These issues were felt to be particularly acute for young people with care-experience within the justice system serving custodial sentences, with practitioners concerned about young people's access to support and throughcare and aftercare services if they are liberated during COVID-19 and the long term impact that this could have on their lives.

While clear challenges were identified, Staf also found that for some young people, lockdown had been a positive experience that provided more stability and security[16].

vi) Children and young people in the Youth Justice system

Research by the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice[h] undertaken in May found that the biggest issues facing children and young people in the justice system were isolation and lack of contact with others. This was compounded for some by a lack of resources (e.g. a phone or phone credit). Despite this, almost all respondents reported being able to keep in touch with family and youth justice services.

Boredom, lack of activity and being stuck at home were reported by children and young people in complying with restrictions. As a result, issues in terms of mental health, family conflict, breakdown of home circumstances, substance use, compliance with restrictions and the risks associated were noted. The need for ensuring children and young people have things to do and access to technology/data is crucial – to help maintain social connections, improve/maintain mental wellbeing and engage in education. People in custody may have heightened needs in terms of requiring more purposeful activity and resources (e.g. phone credit) and access to contact with friends and family.

Most children and young people were reported as complying with COVID-19 restrictions. However, this was reported to become more difficult with time. There are some children and young people for whom the impact of COVID-19 and associated restrictions was reported to be more significant, exacerbating previous experiences and issues such as addictions issues, mental health concerns, lack of support, and care experience, as well as for those with their own children, or without/with insecure accommodation.

Some young people raised the impact of delays to court and Children's Hearings and on progression of plans (e.g. from custody) as an issue, which, as acknowledged by practitioners, can cause stress and uncertainty.

Requests of government from children and young people included more financial help and reassurance that police are there to ensure their safety and to support those whose care placements may be breaking down. A lack of information and uncertainty about the current situation was also highlighted, underlining the importance of targeted messaging for young people[17].



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