Publication - Research and analysis

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

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

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Coronavirus (COVID-19): children, young people and families - evidence summary - December 2020
9. General children, young people and parent/carer COVID-19 evidence and research

60 page PDF

732.5 kB

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

Ofsted: Children Hardest Hit by COVID-19 Pandemic are Regressing in Basic Skills and Learning (England)
Source: Ofsted
Date: 10 November 2020

Ofsted has today published its second report on the effects of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic across the sectors it inspects and regulates – from early years to post 16 education. This is based on more than 900 visits to education and social care providers during September and October. Key findings:

  • Ofsted's second report into the impact of the pandemic finds that children who were hardest hit by school closures and restrictions have regressed in some basic skills and learning.
  • Some young children, who were previously potty-trained, have lapsed back into nappies, particularly those whose parents were unable to work flexibly.
  • Older children have lost stamina in their reading and writing, some have lost physical fitness, others show signs of mental distress, including an increase in eating disorders and self-harm.
  • Concerns remain about children who were out of sight during school closures, with falling referrals to social care teams raising fears that domestic neglect, exploitation or abuse is going undetected.
  • Inspectors found children's experiences weren't necessarily determined by privilege or deprivation. Rather, those who are coping well have good support structures around them and have benefited from quality time spent with families and carers. This includes children from all backgrounds, including those within the care system, some of whom who saw relationships with carers improve.
  • Across all age groups, children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have been seriously affected in both their care and education, as the services that families relied on – particularly speech and language services – were unavailable.
  • As with previous Ofsted reports, schools report an increase in home schooling which is reported to be driven by fears about the virus.

COVID-19 Social Study Research Updates (UK Wide)
Source: University College London (UCL)
Date: Weekly

As previously reported, weekly updates from this large survey-based study provide some interesting insights into households with children. Although the sample is large, findings cannot be generalised to the wider population as the sample is not representative.

Data from Week 32-33 (published 5 Nov) and Week 34-35 (published 19 Nov):

  • There are widening financial inequalities within society as a result of the pandemic. Amongst people finding things financially very difficult before the pandemic, 70% are now reporting that things are even worse for them.
  • Wellbeing has worsened since new restrictions were brought in in mid-September. Life satisfaction is 8% lower than it was at the start of September. Happiness levels are now 5% lower than they were before more restrictions were brought in in mid-September. Both measures, however, are higher than they were at the start of the first lockdown in April.
  • Compliance with guidelines in lower in higher income households, in urban areas, and amongst adults living with children compared to adults not living with children.
  • Depression and anxiety are still highest in young adults, people living alone, people with lower household income, people living with children, and people living in urban areas.
  • Loneliness levels have been relatively stable in the past fortnight. Levels are still highest in younger adults, women, people from BAME backgrounds, people with lower household income, people living with children, people living in urban areas, and people with a diagnosed mental or physical health condition.

Beyond Masks: Societal impacts of COVID-19 and accelerated solutions for children and adolescents (International including coverage of the UK)
Source: UNICEF
Date: 30 Oct 2020

UNICEF has published a literature review on the societal impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. The report examines evidence from prior epidemics to find insights to inform the current COVID-19 crisis, and considers possible solutions for mitigating the impact. Internationally, the evidence base on the societal impacts on children is still emerging, with less evidence available in low and middle income countries in particular and a relatively low number of paediatric studies. Key findings:

General insights

  • All children are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, often in multiple ways. The pandemic has massively exacerbated existing disparities, such as poverty, housing, hunger, learning, mental health distress, violence, bereavement and social isolation, and made challenges that were previously affecting smaller groups of high-risk children – such as severe parenting stressors – more widespread.
  • The review identifies that the most effective evidence-based responses are social protection (especially financial measures and nutrition), parenting programmes, mental health support and education. There is increasing evidence of the essential role of community-based service delivery during the pandemic.

Health and wellbeing

  • Lockdowns are likely to be associated with increased physical inactivity among children and adolescents, with negative consequences for their health and well-being.
  • Essential mental health services provided through health facilities, schools and other forms directly to families and communities are central to children's well-being. Provision of support measures, including food parcels, e-Health consultations and mobile mental health support from peers, are promising interventions to support children and adolescents during the pandemic.
  • Adverse mental (and potentially physical) health effects of social isolation are likely to be worse for specific groups of children and adolescents; these include adolescents with pre-existing mental health disorders, those who have contracted the disease and are self-isolating, adolescents in households where adults are absent (for example because caregivers have been hospitalized or are essential workers), those dependent on school lunches or other social protection through schools, and young people whose employment may be lost or suspended as a result of lockdowns.
  • What works - based on evidence of effectiveness and acceptability, it would be useful to further develop telephone and online support and family programmes, online moderated chat-based forums, and mobile phone applications using SMS (text messaging).
  • Storytelling and related creative activities can help. Research conducted by the United Kingdom Research Initiative's Global Challenge Research Fund (UKRI GCRF) Accelerate Hub has shown that telling stories, including online, is itself an effective outlet for children and young people when they are anxious, as in the rapidly changing and stressful situation of the pandemic.

Impact of loss of education

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive disruption to learning and human capital development for children and young people worldwide, as well as impacting on children's wellbeing. School closures are resulting in learning loss, heightened protection risks and mental distress. School closures disrupt social relationships and networks, school-based provision of other services such as food and medicines, and prevent children from accessing services available via schools such as interventions for emotional well-being and bullying. Schools can also be places of safety and security. Anecdotal evidence from previous epidemics indicates that adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to exploitation, child labour, child marriage, and sexual and gender-based violence.
  • There is a long way to go in finding appropriate models of non-school-based learning for different contexts, countries and individual children.
  • Children living with disabilities will require specific attention as they and their caregivers are at increased risk of the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic may impact on career choices. Anecdotal and qualitative evidence suggests that young people may shy away from traditional careers that have been heavily affected by the pandemic, at least in the short term – including hospitality, transport and tourism. Despite the barriers to evening out inequalities and digital exclusion, there are immense socioeconomic opportunities for adolescents in online innovative activities.

Family stress and increased risk of child neglect and abuse

  • Evidence from previous natural disasters indicates an increase in domestic and family violence of up to 50 per cent in the post-disaster aftermath for a period of up to 12 months. However, the available evidence suggests a mixed picture. Calls to child helplines, an integral part of child protection systems, have increased in some countries, but decreased in others.
  • There are evidence-based interventions to reduce violence against children during emergencies such as pandemics, conflicts or natural disasters. Many of these focus on parenting programmes, delivered by lay workers, which have been shown to improve parent–child relationships, decrease violent discipline, reduce caregiver stress, and improve child behaviour and child and caregiver mental health.
  • Parents are feeling the strain in multiple ways from the pandemic, and this can impact on childcare. Research shows that families in fragile circumstances are most vulnerable to the impacts of parenting stress. In this pandemic, this cohort is likely to include families in poverty, families experiencing conflict and those lacking support from other adults. It is also likely to include families in vulnerable groups, such as refugees and undocumented populations. Parents working as essential service providers are also experiencing considerable stress and strain.
  • Evidence shows that parenting programmes are an effective approach to improve parenting, and to reduce parental stress and violence in all settings. Systematic reviews have found remote parenting programmes to be effective in high-income settings, but further research is required to determine the effectiveness of such schemes in low- and middle-income country contexts and in the context of COVID-19.
  • Access to safe, quality and affordable childcare is often a vital service to help support children during the pandemic.