Coronavirus (COVID-19): children, young people and families - evidence summary - June 2021

Summary of Scottish and UK evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on the wellbeing of children and young people.

Research from across the UK

9. General children, young people and parent/carer COVID-19 evidence and research

(England) School closures and children's emotional and behavioural difficulties

Source: Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), University of Essex

Date: 15 March 2021

This report draws on the Understanding Society UK Household Longitudinal Survey data to examine responses provided to the validated SDQ scores from female parents/guardians of about 1,900 children between the ages of 5 and 11 in England only (see Section 1 above for more on SDQ scores).

The primary purpose of the research was to assess a causal effect of the school closures on changes in emotional and behavioural difficulties. This research compared children who were prioritised to return to school in June 2020 (reception, year 1 and year 6, equivalent to P1, P2 and P7), and were thus eligible to an additional six weeks of school attendance, with those of a similar age who were not. This comparison is specific to the changes in COVID-19 restrictions in England. It provides a comparison between SDQ scores from surveys in July and September of 2020 and comparable time periods from surveys between 2009 and 2019.

Key findings from the report included:

  • In July 2020, SDQ scores had risen substantially compared with before the pandemic among all children, but the increase was greater among children not prioritised for return to school. By September, when all children had returned to school, SDQ scores had fallen for all groups, but remained above pre-pandemic levels and the gap between priority and non-priority groups remained similar.
  • This suggested that wellbeing impacts of school closures persisted over time and were not resolved simply by returning to school.

(UK) Impacts of the first COVID-19 lockdown on learning, health behaviours, and mental wellbeing in young people aged 11 - 15 years

Source: Institute of Applied Health Research, University of Birmingham

Date: April 2021

This research project[11] focuses on both the short and long-term health, education, and wellbeing impacts of COVID-19 restrictions specifically on young people aged 11 to 15. The research recruited 687 young people aged 11-15 years in secondary education in the UK (94% of respondents were from England, 5% from Scotland, 1% from Wales, and none from Northern Ireland) to participate in an online survey in June - July 2020. The researchers plan to follow up with respondents to look at longer-term impacts in the future. The study includes differences by socioeconomic position based on the Family Affluence Score questionnaire. The survey asked questions on respondents' behaviours both during and prior to the first lockdown.

Key findings included:

  • Almost all participants reported that they were not learning at their usual level. Participants from less affluent families reported greater reductions in their level of learning and were less likely to have access to their own computer or tablet for online schoolwork.
  • Participants spent low amounts of time on physically active activities and high amounts of time on screen based sedentary leisure activity. Participants from less affluent families had lower physical activity levels during the lockdown, but reported similar changes to their physical activity levels as those from families that are more affluent.
  • Food insecurity increased with the greatest increases seen in participants from the least affluent families.
  • Average weekday sleep duration increased by one hour, and sleep related difficulties reduced.
  • The majority of participants felt as safe or more safe, and as able to or more able to seek support, but less able to do enjoyable things and to achieve things during the lockdown, compared with beforehand.
  • Mental wellbeing was lower among participants from less affluent families, but compared with participants from more affluent families, they were more likely to report feeling safer and being more able to seek support, have fun and achieve things during the lockdown than beforehand.
  • Overall, the lockdown had a more positive effect on the closeness of relationships with household members, but a more negative effect on the closeness of relationships with friends and family members outside of the household.

(England) COVID-19 isolation having detrimental impact on children's education and welfare, particularly the most vulnerable

Source: Ofsted

Date: 15 December 2020

Ofsted published its third and final set of reports on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across the sectors it inspects and regulates – from early years to post-16 education. This was based on nearly 2,000 visits to education and social care providers during the autumn term. Key findings included:

  • Repeated isolation has chipped away at the progress pupils have made since returning to school in September.
  • The effectiveness of remote education was varied and difficult to determine.
  • Children arriving at secure children's homes are, in effect, put into solitary confinement.
  • Many children with special education needs and/or disabilities (SEND) were not attending school, were struggling with remote learning and were at risk of abuse or neglect.
  • Even more schools report at least one child now being home schooled. Many parents doing this said their children will not return to school 'until pandemic is over.'

(Wales) Coronavirus and Me: a second nationwide survey of the views and experiences of children and young people in Wales

Source: Children's Commissioner for Wales

Date: 24 February 2021

The Children's Commissioner for Wales has released findings from the second Coronavirus and Me survey looking at the views and experiences of children and young people in Wales during the Level 4 lockdown in Wales in January 2021. 19,737 children and young people, aged 3-18 responded to the survey. The findings included negative emotional and mental health impacts, worries about falling behind with education, and missing friends and school. The report also highlighted how disabled children and young people were more worried, more likely to feel sad, and more likely to feel unsafe. Children and young people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups (this was the terminology used by the survey) were also more likely to feel lonely and to feel unsafe (see section 15.5 below).

(England) Childcare use and perceived impact on child development for families of 0-4 year-olds during COVID-19

Source: Ipsos MORI (for the Department for Education)

Date: 18 March 2021

Ipsos MORI have published research from two rounds of surveys collected between November 2020 and January 2021 on behalf of the Department for Education on the use of childcare and perceived impact on child development. The surveys were conducted with a representative sample of 1,000 English parents of children aged 0-4 through an online survey. Key findings included:

  • Nearly three-quarters of parents whose child used formal childcare before COVID-19 reported that their child was using formal childcare in January 2021.
  • A sixth reported that they intended to use formal childcare as soon as the national lockdown restrictions are lifted; around a tenth were not planning to use formal childcare again until at least March 2021 (even if restrictions were lifted).
  • Among parents whose child was not receiving formal childcare in January 2021, the most common reasons were that the parent never used formal childcare, the childcare available was too expensive, and childcare was not needed as the parent(s) was on maternity or paternity leave.
  • Parents whose child was not using formal childcare in January 2021 were asked what would encourage them to use formal childcare over the coming months. Parents most commonly cited the end of the national lockdown, followed by childcare at reduced or no cost, when older/vulnerable relatives had been vaccinated, and when they/their immediate family had been vaccinated.
  • More than half of parents whose child used formal childcare before COVID-19 reported that the overall disruption to childcare/school settings since March 2020 had harmed their child's social and educational development.
  • Around two-thirds of parents were concerned about the impact of the current national lockdown on their child(ren)'s social and educational development.

10. Impact on families

(UK and England) Parental experiences during the pandemic: What can we learn from survey data?

Source: University of Edinburgh, Childcare and Wellbeing in Times of COVID-19 project

Date: 17 March 2021

The Childcare and Wellbeing in Times of COVID-19 project has shared early findings in a blog by the project's research team. The mixed-methods research combines analysis from existing longitudinal surveys with qualitative interviews and co-production activities to understand the impact of COVID-19 on families' wellbeing and childcare. The research includes data from the UK-representative Understanding Society longitudinal study from January 2017-June 2019 and a COVID specific sweep in July 2020. It also includes data from the Next Steps study, representative of a cohort of 16,000 individuals born in England in 1990. The authors note that these findings are from the early stages of the pandemic and will continue to explore them further. A full report is expected to be published in October.

Findings so far included:

  • Among Understanding Society respondents, one in four parents at age 30 had experienced a drop in their mental health on a standardised health questionnaire,[12] compared with one in five non-parents.
  • Women with children were the most likely to experience a decline in mental health. There was no significant difference between women and men without children.
  • Female parent respondents who were younger, never married, or from an ethnic minority group were more likely to experience this decline than other groups.
  • Among Next Steps respondents, 59% of female parents self-reported that they felt more stressed during the pandemic than before, compared with 41% of male parents, 45% of female non-parents, and 28% of male non-parents.

11. Mental health and mental wellbeing

(UK) Report 10: Children and adolescents' mental health: One year in the pandemic

Source: University of Oxford

Date: 5 May 2021

Oxford University's Co-SPACE (COVID-19: Supporting Parents, Adolescents and Children during Epidemics) study is tracking changes to mental wellbeing using SDQ scores over the course of the pandemic and has published its tenth report. This was based on data from an open survey with over 8,700 parents/carers and over 1,200 adolescents aged 11 to 16 who were recruited through social media, partner organisations, networks and charities, the media, and targeted online advertising. Findings were not nationally representative and 6.6% of the respondents live in Scotland. Key findings included:

  • Parents and carers reported a sharp decrease in behavioural, emotional and attentional difficulties among primary and secondary school aged children as restrictions have eased since February 2021.
  • Parents and carers reported the highest level of behavioural, emotional and attentional difficulties in June 2020 and February 2021, when restrictions were highest.
  • Overall, younger children (aged 4-10) have had greater changes in levels of behavioural, emotional, and attentional difficulties throughout the pandemic; levels of difficulties among secondary school aged children (aged 11-16) have been more stable.
  • Patterns of parent/carer reported behavioural, emotional, and attentional difficulties over time have been relatively similar for boys and girls.
  • Overall children have experienced reductions in mental health symptoms as restrictions eased in March 2021, however children with SEN/ND and those from low-income households have continued to show elevated mental health symptoms.
  • The pattern of adolescent self-reported mental health was consistent with parent/carer reports.

Emerging Minds has launched a further project called the Co-RAY project (Covid-19 response: Mental Health resources for and by Young People). Working with a range of mental health organisations, this 18-month project aims to make sense of the research and support young people themselves to develop and share resources that will be helpful for other young people. The project will also share existing evidence based resources.

(UK) Barnardo's warns of lasting impact of pandemic on children and young people's mental health and wellbeing

Source: Barnardo's

Date: May 2021

Barnardo's has undertaken a wide range of research throughout the pandemic as part of its 'Big Conversation' campaign. During 2021, the organisation has completed a second YouGov online poll of over 4,000 children and young people aged 8-24, however full sampling details were not provided. This blog post summarises forthcoming findings. The blog highlights that the number of 16-24 year olds reporting struggling with their mental health and wellbeing has increased from last year suggesting mental health and wellbeing has worsened despite the recent positive news about the vaccine rollout and the lifting of restrictions. Young people reported stress has increased the most since before the pandemic, with 58% reporting a rise, compared with 43% last year. Loneliness was next at 56% (up from 48% last year), followed by worry at 54% (up from 48% last year) and sadness at 52% (up from 46% from last year). 

(UK) Coronavirus: Impact on young people with mental health needs Survey 4: February 2021

Source: Young Minds

Date: February 2021

This report outlines the results of Young Minds' fourth online COVID-19 survey with young people aged 13-25 with a history of mental health needs. 2,438 respondents completed the survey. The majority of respondents identified as female (79%), and 88% said they were White British. Just 6% of respondents were from Scotland and the sub-sample is not representative. This survey was conducted 26 January – 12 February 2021 during the national lockdown. The report notes that it was too early to draw definitive conclusions about the long-term impact, many remained concerned about the future. Key findings included:

  • 75% of respondents agreed that they were finding the current lockdown harder to cope with than the previous ones.
  • 67% believed that the pandemic would have a long-term negative effect on their mental health.
  • 79% believed that their mental health would improve once most restrictions are lifted.
  • The most common pressures during the period of lockdown in 2021 were loneliness and isolation, concerns about school, college, or university work, and a breakdown in routine.
  • Among young people who believe they have needed mental health support during the pandemic, 54% said that they have received some form of support (e.g. through NHS mental health services; school or university counsellors; helplines; charities). 24% said that they have looked for support but not accessed any; 22% said that they had not looked for support.
  • Among respondents who were at school or college, 55% said that there was a counsellor or mental health support team available in their school, 23% disagreed.
  • Among respondents who were at school or college, almost half (48%) did not think that their school was focusing more on wellbeing and mental health than usual.

(UK) Back in lockdown: Girls' and young women's hopes and fears for the future

Source: Girlguiding

Date: 16 February 2021

Girlguiding has released new research looking at how girls and young women aged 4-18 in the UK were coping during the latest national lockdown and with the changes that have occurred in their lives over the past year. Findings from a survey of 1,900 members included: 53% said the pandemic and latest lockdown have negatively affected their mental health, with older girls being the most affected; 42% of girls said they were feeling more lonely, 43% more sad, and 44% more anxious and worried than during the first lockdown in March 2020.

(UK) Voices from Lockdown: One Year On: A way forward for women and girls

Source: Agenda

Date: 22 March 2021

Agenda has published a report on how the pandemic has affected women and girls. The report brings together three surveys conducted with 196 responses from 150 women and women and girls' organisations carried out since the first national lockdown. Findings included: of the 10 specialist girls' organisations surveyed, 10 said anxiety was very common among the girls they were supporting and 9 out of 10 identified self-harm as very or quite common; 31% of all women and girls' organisations saw an increase in poverty and destitution in those they supported since the start of the pandemic; 56% of services identified financial problems and poverty as a key driver of mental health issues for women and girls; and 100% of organisations reported the complexity of women and girls' needs has increased.

(England) Bullying during the coronavirus pandemic

Source: Anti-Bullying Alliance

Date: February 2021

The Anti-Bullying Alliance has published findings from a survey of 406 pupils (the majority were in secondary school), school staff, and parents and carers in England about bullying and relationships, carried out during the week 1-7 February 2021, when some children were in school but most were taking part in learning at home. Findings included: 68% of young people said they felt less connected to their friendships than before the pandemic; 75% of young people learning from home were not given opportunities to communicate with other pupils during online lessons, and where they were allowed to use the chat functions these were often used to say unkind and bullying things; and children and young people reported bullying about their home life and access to technology.

(International) Emerging Evidence: Coronavirus and children and young people's mental health (Issue 7)

Source: Evidence Based Practice Unit

Date: 21 April 2021

This was the seventh in a series of evidence reviews on the impact of the pandemic on children and young people's mental health and how to support them with these challenges. Key sub-groups covered included children and young people with pre-existing health and education needs, children and young people experiencing socio-economic disadvantage and social care needs, and minority ethnic children – the findings for each sub-group are reported in the relevant sub-heading of this briefing below. This report covers academic research and grey literature between November 2020 and January 2021 and focuses on newly emerging evidence rather than recurrent themes covered in previous editions. A summary of key findings on the mental health challenges for children and young people is below:

  • Evidence from Bangladesh during the pandemic indicates that the prevalence of suicidal ideation among university students aged 18-28 was 12.8%, but it was not possible to ascertain whether this was an increase, as the prevalence of suicidal ideation pre-pandemic varied greatly by study.
  • A study from Italy indicated that more time spent in lockdown was associated with increases in the problematic "all or nothing" thinking style and a greater likelihood of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among university students.
  • There was evidence that some groups of children and young people have experienced a disproportionate impact on their mental health during the pandemic. The current issue cited research that has found that girls and young people of colour may be particularly impacted.
  • In the United States of America (USA), young people's social media use was associated with worse mental health outcomes during the pandemic. A higher number of hours per day spent on social media predicted moderate-to-severe depression and anxiety in April to July 2020.

12. Physical health and wellbeing

(UK) Predictors of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the UK household longitudinal study

Source: University of Glasgow, ISER University of Essex, Ipsos MORI UK Ltd, and Public Health Scotland

Date: May 2021

This research, conducted between 24 November and 1 December 2020, draws on respondents participating in the 'Understanding Society' survey and looks at the likelihood for vaccine uptake and reasons for hesitancy. The sample includes respondents who lived in households that had completed a recent wave of the main survey and participated in other 'Understanding Society' COVID-19 surveys. The final weighted sample size used in the research was 9,390. The sample was representative of the UK and included younger people aged between 16 and 24. Crucially, this research was carried out prior to the first vaccination doses being received and prior to the lockdown initiated in January 2021.

Key findings included:

  • While 18% of all respondents said they would be 'unlikely' or 'very unlikely' to get a vaccination, hesitancy was higher in younger age groups (26.5% in 16 – 24 year olds and 28.3% in 25-34 year olds vs 4.5% in those aged 75+).
  • Hesitancy also was higher in women than men (21.0% vs 14.7%) and among Black (71.8%) and Pakistani/Bangladeshi ethnic groups as well.
  • The main reasons provided for hesitancy were worry about unknown future effects of the vaccine, other reasons (not specified), and side effects.

13. Education, learning and employment

(England) Lockdown lessons: pupil learning and wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic - final report

Source: ImpactEd

Date: 08 February 2021

ImpactEd has published a report on pupil learning and wellbeing during the pandemic. The report draws from an open survey of over 62,000 pupils aged 6- to 18-years old across England enrolled in ImpactEd partner schools. The key findings included: children who had struggled the most during lockdown were not always children who had been previously identified as vulnerable; challenges with remote learning were felt more strongly by pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds; pupils in years 10 and 11 experienced the greatest challenges with motivation for learning; girls experienced greater anxiety about returning to school and more anxiety while in school; pupil wellbeing was stable during the first period of remote teaching.

(England) The impact of Covid-19 on School Starters: Interim briefing 1, Parent and school concerns about children starting school

Source: Education Endowment Foundation

Date: April 2021

The Education Endowment Foundation released a briefing paper reporting initial findings from a study on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the socioemotional wellbeing, language, and numeracy skills of Reception Year children in England. This research was based on surveys returned from 58 schools not participating in the Education Endowment Foundation's Early Years trials, not Early Adopters of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile, and had more than 15 children entering Reception Year. 673 parents, the majority of whom were mothers, responded to a separate survey asking about the experiences of their children. The surveys were completed between October 2020 and 5 January 2021. Key findings included:

  • 76% of schools (44 out of 58 schools) reported that children who started school in autumn 2020 needed more support than children in previous cohorts did.
  • According to schools, children were struggling particularly with three areas of development: 1) communication and language development; 2) personal, social and emotional development; and 3) literacy.
  • 56% of parents were concerned about their children starting school following the lockdown.
  • A large proportion of parents who expressed concerns about their children's transition to school were particularly concerned about children's social and emotional development (33%) while far fewer were concerned about language and communication (3%).
  • Once the school year started, most parents (96%) thought that their child had settled in well and 85% of parents did not report any concerns about how their child was coping in school.

14. Children's rights and participation

No new evidence to report for this summary.

15. Children and young people with vulnerabilities and/or disadvantage

15.1 Poverty

(UK) Seeking an anchor in an unstable world: experiences of low-income families over time and Staying afloat in a crisis: families on low incomes in the pandemic

Source: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Date: 09 March 2021

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published two reports looking at the experiences of 14 low-income families before and after the coronavirus pandemic. The reports find that: families on low incomes who were already facing constraints and instability at the start of 2020 were more vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic; and the factors most likely to help families get by or improve their lives were: steady work, two wages in the family, reduced need for childcare as children got older, and support from extended family; access to furlough and having supportive employers were also important.

(UK) A crisis within a crisis: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food insecurity

Source: The Food Foundation

Date: 1 March 2021

To assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food insecurity across the UK population, the Food Foundation commissioned seven nationally representative surveys with YouGov between March 2020 and January 2021, one of which was specifically focused on households with children. A further two nationally representative surveys were commissioned with Childwise to hear directly from children and young people about their COVID-19 food experiences. The purpose of this report was to present new data from the most recent surveys conducted in January 2021 and draw comparisons to evidence compiled periodically since March 2020.

Key findings included:

  • Despite vital emergency measures in place, more people were considered food insecure at the time of publication than before the pandemic.
  • Households with children have been hit hard, with many children still falling through the cracks in support. 12% of households with children have experienced food insecurity in the 6 months prior to January 2021.
  • Existing support schemes have made a difference, but gaps have meant many people still struggle to eat adequately. Extremely clinically vulnerable people were more than twice as likely to be food insecure than average.
  • COVID-19 has dramatically widened inequalities in food security and nutrition. Minority ethnic adults were twice as likely to experience food insecurity compared with White British adults.

(UK) A year like no other: youth homelessness during the COVID pandemic

Source: Centrepoint

Date: 20 April 2021

Centrepoint has published a report looking at young people's homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic. Figures show that: the total number of calls to the Centrepoint helpline in 2020/21 was 33% higher than the year before – up from 9,770 in 2019/20 to 13,019 in 2020/21; and 27% of those who provided information about their care status in 2020/21 were care leavers, compared with 19% in 2019/20.

15.2 Children, young people and families impacted by disability and serious health conditions

(England) Coronavirus: disabled children and young people

Source: Disabled Children's Partnership

Date: 14 May 2021

The Disabled Children's Partnership has published a report on the impact of the pandemic on disabled children, their siblings and their parents. The report showed the findings from the third in a series of surveys of disabled children and their families. It found: a high proportion of disabled children and their families were still experiencing severe levels of social isolation despite the easing of restrictions; over half of families were unable to access therapies vital for their disability; 60% of families were experiencing delays and challenges accessing health service appointments; and that disabled children and their families were at risk of developing additional long-term health problems.

(UK) The impact of COVID-19 – A year in the life of families raising disabled and seriously ill children and young people

Source: Family Fund

Date: 12 April 2021

This research conducted by Family fund included a total of 13,284 families on low-incomes with disabled children and young people across the UK. The research included an open survey, conducted through five waves of surveying between March 2020 and February 2021 and qualitative interviews with families. Scotland specific findings are included above in Section 7.2. The key findings from UK respondents were:

  • 75% of families reported the overall support available to them has decreased since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • 76% of families reported their overall financial situation has worsened as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • 79% of families reported their overall health and wellbeing worsened since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Mental health of parents assessed using the WEMWBS questions decreased across the five survey waves, while loneliness increased until showing only a slight decrease between December 2020 and February 2021.
  • 42% of families believed it would take more than a year before their lives return to normal.

(UK) Lonely lockdown: life for siblings of disabled children in the UK

Source: Sibs, UCL

Date: 08 April 2021

Sibs, a UK charity supporting brothers and sisters of disabled children and adults, has published findings from a survey of parents to understand how the needs of siblings of disabled children were affected by lockdown. A survey of 640 parents found that: 81% said their sibling child's mental health had worsened; 43% of siblings were providing more care in lockdown and 40% of young siblings were feeling isolated and missing support from family and friends. An earlier survey carried out in May 2020 found that 75% of parents felt their sibling child's mental health had worsened in lockdown.

(UK) The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on child welfare: d/Deaf and disabled children and young people

Source: NSPCC Learning

Date: February 2021

This briefing draws on data from Childline counselling sessions and NSPCC helpline contacts to summarise the impact of the pandemic on d/Deaf, disabled, and autistic children and young people. In total, the counselling sessions reached 119 d/Deaf children, 2,625 children with other disabilities, and 2,870 children on the autism spectrum. The briefing summarises anonymised quotes from helpline sessions into key themes. Key findings included:

  • Coronavirus restrictions have caused disruption to young people's routines, which has been difficult for some children to cope with and adjust to.
  • Support services have been harder for young people to access during the pandemic, with services either closed or severely reduced. Where services were transferred online, some young people found it difficult to access them, due to their disability.
  • Home learning has also presented several challenges for some young people, including accessibility of online lessons and reduced additional support.
  • Some young people have experienced delays in being assessed for support during the pandemic.
  • After returning to school, some young people found they were no longer receiving the same level of support as they had been given before lockdown.
  • The pandemic conditions have put additional stress on families where a child is disabled. Some parents have struggled to cope with the demands of caring for a disabled child with reduced support. Some children have also had to care for a disabled sibling during lockdown.
  • Some young people reported being unfairly, and in some cases aggressively, challenged for not wearing a face covering, even though they were exempt from doing so.

(International) Emerging Evidence: Coronavirus and children and young people's mental health (Issue 7)

Source: Evidence Based Practice Unit

Date: 21 April 2021

This report – as described in Section 3 above – reviewed recent evidence on the impact of the pandemic on children and young people with pre-existing health and education needs. Key findings are:

  • Available evidence from Italy, Turkey, Hong Kong, Germany, and the USA found some form of impact on the physical or mental health of children with migraines, multiple sclerosis, special education needs and/or acute or chronic diseases, eating disorders, and young psychiatric hospital patients.
  • Among children with cancer aged 8-18 in the Netherlands, there was no increase in psychosocial stress.

15.3 Care experienced children and young people

No new evidence to report for this summary.

15.4 Young carers

No new evidence to report for this summary.

15.5 Minority ethnic children and young people

A number of findings from the Children's Commissioner for Wales in Section 9 cover findings from Black, Asian, and Ethnic Minority (BAME) groups. Though the survey included a large sample size, it was not representative of the wider population of Wales. Key findings included:

  • BAME children and young people were more likely to feel lonely; 7-11 year olds were more likely to be worried in general and about Coronavirus.
  • They were less likely to say they feel safe; 7-11 year olds were less likely to say they are happy and were less likely to say they are speaking with friends and family to keep a healthy body and mind.
  • BAME 12-18 year olds were more likely to be doing indoor activities (e.g. exercise, music, reading or writing, art, and learning a new skill).
  • BAME children and young people were more likely to feel closing of public spaces (e.g. libraries, outside spaces, or religious or faith group spaces) has affected their learning outside school or college.
  • There was little difference between 12-18 year old BAME and White Welsh or British responses around enjoying learning at their own pace, getting good support and feedback from teachers about work, or feeling worried about falling behind, qualifications, or not feeling motivated.

(International evidence) Emerging Evidence: Coronavirus and children and young people's mental health (Issue 7)

Source: Evidence Based Practice Unit

Date: 21 April 2021

This report – as described in Section 3 – reviewed recent evidence on the impact of the pandemic on minority ethnic children and young people (referred to as people of colour in the report). Key findings are:

  • In a study in the USA, during the pandemic, young people aged 18-25 who identified as Black/African American experienced greater stress severity than those who identified as White or Hispanic/Latinx.
  • A longitudinal study in the USA found that Hispanic/Latinx young people had higher levels of reported loneliness than White young people did during the pandemic. There was no significant association found between race and depression or anxiety symptoms among young people.

15.6 Vulnerable children and young people

This section includes sources that look at evidence on Child Protection.

(UK) Calls to the NSPCC helpline surge during the pandemic

Source: NSPCC

Date: 29 April 2021

The NSPCC has released additional figures specifically related to the concerns reported from adults to the helpline from the year between April 2020 and March 2021. These included:

  • Adult health and behaviour (including worries about parental alcohol and substance misuse, domestic abuse and parental mental health), which increased 42% to more than 20,400 contacts
  • Neglect, which increased 15% to more than 12,800 contacts
  • Physical abuse, which increased 18% to more than 12,600 contacts
  • Emotional abuse, which increased 40% to more than 11,600 contacts.
  • An overall increase of contacts by 23% from the previous year. 47% of these led to a referral to an external agency.

(UK) Thousands of young people speak to Childline about mental health and abuse during the pandemic

Source: NSPCC

Date: 14 May 2021

NSPCC has released figures from the Childline service on the nearly 90,000 counselling sessions and NSPCC helpline contacts to highlight the impact of mental health and abuse on children and young people during the coronavirus pandemic. Of these counselling sessions, over 73,000 were about mental or emotional health and over 16,600 were delivered regarding abuse.

(England) Vulnerable children and young people

Source: Department for Education

Date: 28 April 2021

The Department for Education (DfE) has published data from the vulnerable children and young people survey of local authorities in England looking at the impact of the coronavirus on children's social care. Wave 22, from 22-24 March 2021, shows that: the total number of referrals during Wave 22 was 11% lower than the usual number at that time of year and the total number of children who started to be looked after reported in Waves 1 to 22 of the survey was around 29% lower than the same period in 2017-20.

(England and Wales) Child protection conference practice during COVID-19

Source: Nuffield Family Justice Observatory

Date: 14 December 2020

Nuffield Family Justice Observatory has published a report, based on research by King's College London, on the impact of coronavirus restrictions in England and Wales on child protection conferences (meetings where professionals and parents come together to identify and address serious concerns about child abuse and neglect). Findings from research with family members and professionals involved in child protection conferences (CPCs) between September and October 2020 included: CPCs were mainly conducted over video or by phone; professionals saw benefits and challenges to remote CPCs - with advantages including improved attendance and engagement by a range of professionals, whilst disadvantages included restricted opportunities for discussion and problems with technology; parents were much less positive about remote CPCs - reporting a lack of information sharing prior to meetings and reduced ability to contribute to the conference itself.

(International) COVID-19 and violence against children: A review of early studies

Source: UNICEF

Date: June 2021 (currently available online)

This literature review on violence against children during the pandemic provided important insight into challenges, gaps, and possible reasons for emerging patterns in international data collection and research.[13] The main results included:

  • Studies noted a decrease in police reports and referrals to child protection services, however this was likely to reflect reductions in 'witnessing' violence.
  • There were mixed results on the number of calls to police or domestic violence helplines when looking at international data available.
  • Based on studies in the UK and USA, results showed that child-abuse related injuries were increasingly treated in hospitals.
  • Surveys, where they were used, consistently reported increases in family violence, even from parents and caregivers themselves.
  • Regarding the nature and quality of the evidence base itself, there was a limited evidence base (only 48 recent publications were considered within scope for the review) which focuses primarily on physical and psychological violence at home, rather than other forms. The differences in methods and study design limit possibilities for generalisations of findings. Finally, administrative records are the main source of data, surveys and big data were less common. Only two surveys relied on representative sampling.

15.7 Domestic abuse and violence against women and girls

As previously reported, the University of College (UCL) COVID Study reports regularly on domestic abuse. The findings for week 50-52 (published 25 March 2021) showed that self-reported abuse (physical and psychological) continued to be fairly stable. It was reported to be slightly higher in people living with children compared with those living with just other adults (under 10% for all groups). It remained higher amongst people with a diagnosed mental condition and was slightly higher amongst people with lower household income, and those with a physical health condition. Although a greater proportion of people from ethnic minority backgrounds consistently reported abuse over the course of the pandemic, abuse in this group had been decreasing since the start of the third lockdown and, at the time of publication, appeared to be similar to what it was amongst people of white ethnicity. However, it should be noted that not all people who experience abuse will necessarily report it, so these levels are anticipated to be an under-estimation of actual levels.

15.8 LGBTQ+ Children and Young People

(UK) LGBT+ pupils twice as likely to contemplate suicide and Black LGBT+ young people's mental health particularly impacted by pandemic

Source: Just Like Us

Date: 17 May 2021 and 23 February 2021

Just Like Us has published research on the mental health of LGBTQ+ children and young people. The research, which surveyed 2,934 pupils aged 11- to 18-years-old, of whom 1,140 identify as LGBTQ+, found that: 68% of LGBTQ+ children and young people have experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings, compared with 29% of young people who are not LGBTQ+; lesbian and transgender young people were most likely to experience suicidal thoughts and feelings; 89% of Black LGBTQ+ children and young people have contemplated suicide, compared with 67% of White LGBTQ+ young people; and LGBTQ+ young people were three times less likely to report feeling good about themselves than their non-LGBTQ+ peers.

Findings released in February included that Black LGBT+ young people were more likely to be worried for their mental health with 61% worrying about their mental health on a daily basis, compared with 56% of white LGBT+ young people; and were more likely to experience depression, anxiety disorder, and panic attacks than white LGBT+ pupils were. A full report on inclusive education and the experiences of LGBTQ+ young people is due in June 2021.

15.9 Children and young people impacted by the justice system

(UK) Coronavirus: impact of prison lockdowns on children with a parent in prison

Source: University of Oxford

Date: 17 March 2021

The University of Oxford Faculty of Law has published a study looking at the experiences of 70 children in the UK whose parents were in prison during the period April - June 2020 and the implications of national lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. The study found that children experienced confusing and complex emotions when face-to-face visits were stopped and this has negatively affected children's emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing.

16. Impact on services

(UK) Still here for children: sharing the experiences of NSPCC staff who supported children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic

Source: NSPCC Learning

Date: 14 December 2020

NSPCC Learning has published findings from a project in which 15 NSPCC staff working in a variety of frontline and strategic roles in Together for Childhood sites in Glasgow, Plymouth and Stoke-on-Trent kept reflective diaries of their experiences supporting children and families during the coronavirus pandemic. Findings included: working online enabled planned work to continue but created new barriers to access for some families; working together with partners helped NSPCC staff respond to the needs of local communities; and staff felt that children were more at risk of experiencing abuse at home and online.

A briefing paper from March 2021 from NSPCC highlighted three key lessons and reflections from their own local service response:

  • Providing remote support using virtual and digital methods worked very well for some services and yielded benefits for children and families.
  • Remote support was less suitable for high risk, complex cases.
  • Hybrid models combining remote and face-to-face support have good potential, if they are child and family-led.

17. Scope, limitations and further information

This briefing document is intended to provide information and raise awareness on current and emerging published evidence on the impacts of COVID-19 on children and young people, including those with vulnerabilities and/or those experiencing disadvantage.

Research scope and limitations

The scope of these briefings is very broad to cover a range of policy interests. It covers a non-systematic selection of evidence sources from Scotland and other parts of the UK published in October and November (mostly). The following topics are generally excluded:

  • Early years (0-2) and maternity;
  • Most aspects of physical health, in particular COVID-19 infection and transmission in children and young people;
  • A detailed coverage of the impact of COVID-19 on education and learning.

Please note there are limitations to the conclusions that can be made from the evidence presented for the following reasons:

  • Much of the survey data lacks robust comparability to pre-lockdown baseline data due to questions asked or data collection changes.
  • Few studies have used validated self-report measures e.g. of mental wellbeing (e.g. WEMWBS, SDQ).
  • Results from different surveys and sources will not be comparable given the different sampling approaches, timing, jurisdiction and questions used.
  • Changes in the different government guidance over the course of the pandemic and within different parts of the UK is also likely to impact on results.

This briefing is not an exhaustive overview or a critical appraisal or endorsement of the quality of research. A rapid review of academic literature is outwith the scope of this briefing.

Please note that some of these summaries have been drawn from the NSPCC Learning series updates (CASPAR weekly update) and the Care Inspectorate Children and Young People Bulletin series, which readers may wish to subscribe to.

Other briefings available in this series:

Coronavirus (COVID-19): impact on children, young people and families - evidence summary June 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19): impact on children, young people and families - evidence summary July 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19): impact on children, young people and families - evidence summary September 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19): impact on children, young people and families - evidence summary October 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19): impact on children, young people and families - evidence summary December 2020

Children and Families Analytical Unit, Scottish Government



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