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

60 page PDF

732.5 kB

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

15.1 Poverty

Emerging Evidence: Coronavirus and Children and Young People's Mental Health (Issue 4) (International)
Source: Evidence Based Practice Unit
Date: 21 Oct 2020

This report – as described in Section 11 – reviewed recent evidence on the impact of the pandemic on children and young people with experiencing socio-economic disadvantage. Key findings are:

  • There is increasing international evidence on the disproportionate mental health impacts (e.g. depression, anxiety, stress) experienced by children and young people from less affluent backgrounds. The quality of housing and home environment (including digital access) is thought to play a role. The report highlights the increased risk this poses to young people who occupy an increasing proportion of new social housing and who are more likely to live in damp homes than older people.
  • The influence of social and economic factors on family mental health is seen in a marked increase in demand on mental health services.

Children's Food Programmes (UK)
Source: The Food Foundation
Date: October 2020

A summary from Food Foundation reports data from two surveys: a YouGov online survey of 2309 adults in households with children in the UK in August/September; an online survey of 1064 children aged 7-17 in the UK conducted by Childwise in September. Key findings include:

  • 29% of children aged 8-17 are registered for Free School Meals, with 42% of these children newly registered to the scheme. 64% of the newly registered children are from households where the main earners report being in higher income occupations compared to 36% from lower income occupations.
  • A further 21% of children aged 8-17, as well as 14% of parents with children not currently on the scheme, said they would like to receive Free School Meals. 8% of children said they were worried about not having enough food for lunch at school this term.
  • 42% of parents with children aged 0-3 years old and/or pregnant women weren't aware of the Government's Healthy Start scheme which provides vouchers for fruit, vegetables and milk. 65% of households with pregnant women and/or children aged 0-3 years old who don't currently receive Healthy Start vouchers said it would make it easier for them to buy more milk, fruit and vegetables for their family. 32% of those say they have a limited budget for food and struggle to afford the fruit, veg and milk they need.

COVID-19 and the Impact on Low Income and Disadvantaged Families: Results from Children in Wales' August 2020 Survey
Source: Children in Wales
Date: October 2020

This report outlines findings from a survey run by Children in Wales which sought to find out how COVID-19 has impacted on low income and disadvantaged families, and to fill knowledge gaps, specifically around food insecurity; digital inclusion; and income and employment. The survey drew on a self-selecting sample so findings are not representative. The survey ran between 13 July and 10 August 2020 and received responses from a range of services (details of the sample are not known and caution should therefore be taken in interpreting the results). Key findings:

  • Food insecurity – The vast majority of respondents reported working with families who were experiencing difficulties accessing food, who were going without food – sometimes for a whole day.
  • Digital exclusion - Most respondents felt that digital inclusion was an issue for the children and families they work with. This included access to devices and data availability. This was felt to have impacted on the learning of children living in disadvantaged families.
  • Income and employment – The vast majority reported this being an issue for the families that they work with. That said, most felt that families knew where to access information regarding help available. The extra cost of food was highlighted as presenting the greatest burden to low income families.

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

Emerging Evidence: Coronavirus and Children and Young People's Mental Health (Issue 4) (International)
Source: Evidence Based Practice Unit
Date: 21 Oct 2020

This report – as described in Section 11 – reviewed recent evidence on the impact of the pandemic on children and young people with existing mental health needs, autism spectrum conditions (ASC) and physical health conditions. Key findings are:

  • The difficulties with routine disruption and access to specialist support for children and young people on the autism spectrum have been widely reported, with many families affected feeling that their needs have not been adequately responded to during the pandemic.
  • Parents and caregivers have expressed concern about children and young people who are living with complex health conditions such as epilepsy and cystic fibrosis. For example, on study in Spain reported an increase in epileptic seizure frequency and negative behavioural impacts during the lockdown in Spain attributed to lack of outdoor space & carer's anxiety. There is some emerging international evidence that the pandemic has had a significant impact on anxiety levels of mothers of children with serious health conditions (e.g. cystic fibrosis) but the same pattern may not be seen in their children.

Oxford University's Co-SPACE (COVID-19: Supporting Parents, adolescents and Children during Epidemics) UK-wide study is tracking changes to mental wellbeing over the course of the pandemic and has published its 'Changes in children and young people's mental health symptoms from March to October 2020' report which found that that children with special education needs and/or neurodevelopmental differences and those from lower income household (< £16,000 p.a.) displayed consistently elevated behavioural, emotional and restlessness/ attentional difficulties over the course of the pandemic. As noted above, this data is drawn from a non-representative sample and cannot therefore be generalised to the UK population as a whole.

15.3 Care experienced children and young people

Impact of COVID-19 on Care and Contact: Experiences in the first COVID-19 Lockdown on Foster Carers and Young People in their Care – Evaluation Report (2020)
Source: Dartington Trust (Research in Practice) (UK)
Date: November 2020

Research in Practice, in collaboration with TACT (The Adolescent and Children's Trust), designed three separate surveys for young people in care, carers and birth parents to explore the impact of the national lockdown on young people in and leaving care. The surveys ran for a month between June and July. In total there were 116 responses from young people, 302 from carers and 7 from the birth parents survey (geography of respondents is unknown). The results are not therefore representative. Key findings:

  • Many young people and carers described how lockdown had given them more quality time to spend with families or those they live with; over 90% of those in foster care reported relationships at home had improved or stayed the same during lockdown.
  • There were mixed views on virtual family time. While some felt it was a more flexible and convenient option which gave young people more control over the situation, the lack of physical contact was an issue for some, as was the additional responsibility this placed on foster carers to help manage family time.
  • In respect of virtual contact with social workers / personal advisors, over 80% of young people and 90% of carers felt this was the same or better than their contact prior to lockdown, citing increased availability and convenience. However, some people felt there had been a reduction in the amount of contact, and this was particularly apparent for those who experienced a change of social worker over lockdown and did not have an opportunity to meet them.
  • Experiences of home-schooling were also mixed, with some young people thriving due to the flexibility and one-to-one support from carers, and others struggling with the lack of routine and reduction in social contact. Carers also raised how the individualised attention supported some young people's learning; however some foster carers commented on the considerable responsibility and time commitments of home-schooling.
  • The wellbeing of children and young people varied considerably over lockdown, with some enjoying the experience and increased free time, and others missing the structure of school and relationships with friends and family. Many reported looking forward to lockdown restrictions easing, while also hoping to maintain the increased quality time lockdown had given their families / households.

15.4 Young carers

Kinship Response Six Month Report: The Impact on Kinship Carers (England)
Source: Grandparents Plus
Date: 17 November 2020

Grandparents Plus has published an evaluation of the Kinship response programme to support kinship carers during the coronavirus pandemic between May and October. The service includes tailored advice, one-to-one support from project workers and peer-to-peer support. Findings from the programme's first six months (over the course of the pandemic) include that special guardians feel less isolated, less lonely, more confident in their role, and reported reduced concerns about their child's wellbeing. (It should be noted, however, that no detail is given of the methodology used or the number of participants involved in the evaluation).

15.5 Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) children and young people

Emerging Evidence: Coronavirus and Children and Young People's Mental Health (Issue 4) (International)
Source: Evidence Based Practice Unit
Date: 21 Oct 2020

This report – as described in Section 11 – reviewed recent international evidence (Jun-Jul) on the impact of the pandemic on sub-groups of children including BME children and young people (referred to as people of colour in the report). Key findings are:

  • The report refers to data from the Kooth online mental service which we have reported on previously and suggests that the increased mental health risk for BME young people may be attributed to young people's awareness of the disproportionate impact of the Coronavirus on BME people.
  • That said, evidence from America found that Asian American and Hispanic young people were less likely to report high levels of anxiety compared to White young people. The report notes that although ethnic identity, social networking and family cohesion might contribute to the lower rates of mental health difficulties among these communities, under-recognition of psychological distress symptoms may also be the reason.
  • Other US evidence continues to report a rise in discrimination against people Asian or Asian-American people owing to their race/ethnicity.

Understanding Society has published a briefing note on Social Cohesion, highlighting the changes to social cohesion around the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among disadvantaged groups and communities. Whilst these findings do not relate to children and families directly, the influence of community on children's lives may be relevant. The report highlights:

  • The percentage of people feeling positive about the relationships in their local neighbourhood was the lowest in June 2020, compared to 2011/12, 2014/15, and 2017/18.
  • People from South Asian, Black and 'Other' ethnic minority background experienced larger declines in social cohesion around the time of the Covid-19 pandemic compared to those from a White British and Irish background. Both men and women, people across different age groups and economic activity groups experienced a similar decline in cohesion around the pandemic period.
  • People living in the most deprived neighbourhoods reported lower levels of perceived social cohesion during the pandemic compared to those living in the least deprived neighbourhoods.
  • The percentage of people from BAME backgrounds who reported that racial insults or attacks are 'very common' or 'fairly common' in their local area increased from 4% in 2014/15 to about 9% in June 2020 (after decreasing by about 2 percentage points between 2011/12 and 2014/15). Compared to White British respondents the percentage of BAME respondents who reported very/fairly common incidents of racial insults/ attacks remained relatively stable between 2011/12 and June 2020 at 2%.
  • Among Ethnic Minorities who reported a negative change in social cohesion between 2014/15 and June 2020, 12% reported that racial insults/attacks were very or fairly common in their local area. This proportion was two times smaller (6%) among those who reported experiencing positive change in social cohesion.

YouGov published new analysis using its Debt Tracker on the impacts of the pandemic on personal finances across the UK, showing the disproportionate impact on Britons from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

  • 45% of people from BAME communities say their personal finances have suffered as a result of the pandemic, compared with 34% of White respondents. Similar proportions say their households are now worse off (45% vs 35%), their disposable income has decreased (44% vs 35%), and state that the pandemic has been bad for both their savings (40% vs 32%) and debts (26% vs 20%).
  • The Debt Tracker data also suggests that people from BAME backgrounds are more likely to have seen their household income decrease as a consequence of the pandemic. While 63% of White people are certain that their household has not lost any income from the pandemic, this figure falls to 48% of people from BAME communities.
  • Similarly, while 28% White people say their household has lost some or all of its income due to COVID-19, 36% of people from BAME backgrounds report the same.
  • 28% people from BAME communities fear not affording food and clothes compared to 21% White people.

University College London (UCL) have shared new findings from their COVID-19 Social Study on psychological impacts of the pandemic, highlighting that women and ethnic minorities have found the pandemic more challenging psychologically.

  • Women have found the Covid-19 pandemic more challenging than men psychologically, reporting higher levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness, and lower levels of life satisfaction and happiness.
  • Respondents from BAME backgrounds also reported consistently worse mental health than other groups across every measure throughout the pandemic, with higher levels of depression, anxiety, thoughts of death or self-harm, reported abuse and loneliness, and lower life satisfaction and happiness.
  • Other groups at risk of higher depression and anxiety are young adults, people living alone, people with lower household incomes, those living with children and those living in urban areas. Levels of depression and anxiety are also higher among those with a long-term physical health condition and those with lower educational qualifications.
  • The biggest stresses around Covid-19 differ amongst different groups.
    • Women and those with long-term physical health conditions are more worried about catching the virus or becoming seriously ill from it, at the start of lockdown women reported anxiety 53% higher, depression 30% higher, and life satisfaction 7% lower compared to men.
    • Those from BAME backgrounds were more concerned about losing their jobs and financial issues, as are those with higher educational qualifications. In the last month, levels of anxiety and depression persisted in being 30% and 15% higher amongst people from BAME backgrounds compared to people from white ethnic backgrounds on average and life satisfaction was 3% lower.

15.6 Vulnerable children and young people

Emerging Evidence: Coronavirus and Children and Young People's Mental Health (Issue 4) (International)
Source: Evidence Based Practice Unit
Date: 21 Oct 2020

This report – as described in Section 11 – reviewed recent international evidence (Jun-Jul) on the impact of the pandemic on children and young people with social care needs. Key findings are:

  • Evidence reports the challenges that practitioners working in early years education have experienced in identifying children who are "out of sight" when providing virtual services during lockdown - for example picking up on subtle signs of abuse.
  • Other research reports low take up of early services which has exacerbated the challenges that vulnerable children and young people are experiencing e.g. taking on secondary worries from parents, difficulties in accessing support where mobility is impaired and – in more extreme cases – where abuses have been hidden at home.

Online Safety: Instagram most Recorded Platform Used in Child Grooming Crimes During Lockdown (England and Wales)
Source: NSPCC
Date: 13 November 2020

The NSPCC has released findings from Freedom of Information (FOI) responses from 38 police forces in England and Wales which shows that 1,220 offences of sexual communication with a child were recorded in the first 3 months of lockdown. Figures show that, where the platform was recorded, Instagram was used in 37% of cases while Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp combined were used in 51% of cases and Snapchat was used in 20% of cases. The research shows that offences have also increased annually in the 3 years before lockdown. In total there were 12,925 offences recorded by police in England and Wales from April 2017 to March 2020, with experts saying poorly designed social media sites are putting children at risk.

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 32-33 (published 5 Nov) show that self-reported abuse (physical and psychological) continues to be fairly stable. It is reported to be slightly higher in people living with children compared to those living with just other adults (under 10% for all groups). Abuse has also been higher amongst people with long-term, physical health conditions and people from BAME backgrounds. However, it should be noted that not all people who are experiencing abuse will necessarily report it, so these levels are anticipated to be an under-estimation of actual levels.

15.8 LGBTQ+ and non-binary children and young people

Emerging Evidence: Coronavirus and Children and Young People's Mental Health (Issue 4) (International)
Source: Evidence Based Practice Unit
Date: 21 Oct 2020

This report – as described in Section 11 – reviewed recent international evidence (Jun-Jul) on the impact of the pandemic on sub-groups of children including LGBTQ+ and non-binary young people. Key findings are:

  • As we have previously reported, there is emerging evidence on how the mental health challenges of the pandemic may be disproportionately affecting LGBTQ+ young people. The report suggests that a loss of safe spaces and LGBTQ+ youth support organisations during the pandemic may have made this group more vulnerable to the current crisis. Difficulties in accessing services is also reported internationally.
  • There is some evidence that young people who identify as transgender and gender queer may be disproportionately impacted by the mental health challenges of the pandemic. For example, there is some emerging US evidence that young transgender men were more likely to report high levels of PTSD symptoms than other genders. This may be in part due to being more isolated from peer networks, rather than the immediate family with whom they are in lockdown.
  • Amongst young people (11-25 years) who access online mental health support from Kooth in the UK (reported in previous Children & Families Briefings), many have reported issues with their gender identity under lockdown with a sizeable increase in gender struggles compared to the previous year.

15.9 Children and young people impacted by the justice system

A Thematic Review of the Work of Youth Offending Services during the COVID-19 Pandemic (England and Wales)
Source: Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation
Date: 18 November 2020

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation has published a thematic review of the work of youth offending services in England and Wales during the coronavirus pandemic. A survey of seven youth offending teams finds that youth court closures due to the pandemic have almost doubled, with the backlog of children awaiting court increasing by 55% by the end of June 2020 compared with the same period in the previous year. The closure of courts has meant that some children have spent longer on remand than would normally be expected.