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

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

Impact on families

COVID-19 adult surveys – households with children

Scottish Evidence

Analysis of data from a Scottish household wellbeing Covid survey[6] was undertaken internally. It analyses data from 266 households with children. Unlike many of the COVID-19 surveys to date, this is based on a small but representative sample of the Scottish population in terms of age, gender, region and tenure. Key findings for families in Scotland are:

  • About a third of households with children (32%) had someone with a health condition that makes them vulnerable to COVID-19;
  • Nearly one in ten households with children (8%) had suffered a COVID-related bereavement;
  • Nearly a quarter of respondents had been furloughed (23%) and a fifth (20%) had reduced their hours;
  • 44% of respondents said their household income had decreased since the crisis, with nearly a fifth of households with children struggling to keep up with bills and a third (32%) are worried about their financial situation or losing their job;
  • Just under a third (31%) said they were worried about children's learning and education [the survey did not include questions about children's health and wellbeing]
  • Although the majority of respondents reported feeling happy (60%), a substantial minority (43%) of respondents were less happy than on a typical day before the coronavirus pandemic. However, 15% said they felt happier than previously. A similar pattern was seen for levels of anxiety.
  • 44% of respondents reported that they had felt lonely in the last week.
  • Women had substantially worse mental wellbeing outcomes across all measures than men. Women were more than twice as likely as men to report high anxiety and low happiness, and were twice as likely to have felt lonely. They were also far more likely to feel cut off from family and friends and to be sleeping badly.
  • 75% of respondents said that they were enjoying spend more time with their family, but about a fifth said that they had been having arguments with people they lived with including their children.

UK Evidence

University College London continues to report on its 'Covid-19 Social Study' which is an adult panel study of over 90,000 respondents focusing on the psychological and social experiences of adults living in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic. The most recent report analyses data from Week 14 (data up to 21st June). This study is not representative of the UK population but is adjusted (weighted) to enable meaningful analysis across a wide range of socio-demographic factors. Approximately 6.5% of survey data used in the report is from Scotland. Key findings of relevance to children and families are:

  • People living with children are more likely to say that they have been enjoying lockdown than other groups (e.g. younger and older adults, those living alone, living alone) and whilst life satisfaction was previously lower amongst people with children during lockdown, this difference has disappeared as lockdown has eased. They are also more likely to say that they will miss being in lockdown. That said, overall enjoyment levels across the UK population are still fairly low - 32% of all respondents reported enjoying lockdown while 46% reported not enjoying it.
  • People living with children continue to report higher rates of depression and anxiety, and loneliness, as do young people, those living alone, those with lower household income, people with a diagnosed mental illness and people living in urban areas (levels have remained fairly stable over the past 2 weeks). It is not possible to tell from the analysis which is the most predictive factor. Gender differences are not reported.
  • People living with children have worried more about all factors which were causing them stress in the last week (e.g. catching COVID-19, employment, access to food), but the differences on worries relating to COVID-19 and food access has diminished as lockdown has eased.

How parents are coping in lockdown

UK Evidence

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published its report in June on the 'mental health effects of the first two months of lockdown and social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK'. The study uses longitudinal data from the Understanding Society study (see below), combined with data from the new COVID-19 survey completed by study participants in April (sample size of nearly 12,000) to provide estimates of a 'COVID effect' on mental health. Findings of relevance to children and families show that, similar to the Scottish data described above, mental health has deteriorated in particular for women, young people and those with children, especially young children. Those with very young children (aged 0-4) saw a significantly larger increase in overall mental health problems (but not severe problems), and this effect is twice as high for women compared to men – perhaps reflecting the uneven distribution of childcare under lockdown (see the Nuffield Foundation report below). Those with school-age children (aged 5-15) also saw a larger increase in mental health problems (but the effect is not as strong as the younger child group). There was no evidence of significant differences by ethnicity or whether individuals are single or live alone or by educational qualifications.

The Nuffield Foundation has published a further update from their project 'The effects of COVID-19 on families' time-use and child development'. This report focuses on how two-parent households (mother and father) in England are balancing work and family under lockdown. It covers data collected between 29 April and 15 May from 3,591 respondents. The sample is representative of parents in opposite-gender partnerships in England. Key findings of relevance are:

  • On average, parents are doing childcare during 9 hours of the day, and housework during 3. Paid work now takes up an average of just 3 hours, which is less than half of pre-lockdown estimates. Parents are now often doing at least two activities at the same time, particularly mothers.
  • Mothers are more likely to have quit or lost their job, or to have been furloughed, since the start of the lockdown.
  • Nearly half of mothers combine paid work with childcare activities (47% compared to 30% of fathers) and are more likely to spend more time on household responsibilities than fathers.
  • More than half of the time spent looking after children is taken up with 'passive childcare' (56% for mothers and 61% for fathers) such as keeping an eye on the children, rather than 'active childcare' such as doing schoolwork or playing together.
  • Women are more likely to multitask during work time than men. Mothers are being interrupted during 57% more of their paid work hours than fathers. This was not the case before the crisis.
  • The division of childcare and housework is not equally shared – mothers who are still working (where the father is not) share childcare and housework equally.
  • Despite doing less childcare than mothers, fathers have nearly doubled the time they spend on childcare during lockdown.

Families' experiences of home learning

Scottish Evidence

Interim findings from the aforementioned second lockdown surveyby Connect[7] which asked parents/carers of children aged 0-18 for their views on children returning to school/nursery in August reported the following:

  • Whilst 59% of respondents said they plan to send their children back to school, only 28% said they would be fine with blended learning/part time school.
  • One of the most common reasons given for the small proportion of parents who do not intend to send their children back to school (3%) was having to shield at home.
  • Parents of children with disabilities or health conditions expressed uncertainty about children returning to school and how their needs would be met (see 'children and families impacted by disability' section).
  • More families now have the resources they need to support school work (68% up from 51%) but there are still some households who do not have the IT equipment/access that they need, or the skills to support IT use or school work in general e.g. due to English as an additional language.

UK Evidence

The Understanding Society COVID-19 study is a monthly survey which examines the experiences of the UK population to the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey is part of the Understanding Society: the UK Household Longitudinal Study, which is a representative survey of UK households (including Scotland) and enables researchers to compare pre and post-lockdown data. 17,450 participants (16+) completed the first survey in April. Relevant findings from the health report and the home learning report are described below.

  • Consistent with other evidence, younger people and women report higher levels of loneliness than older people and men.
  • Home schooling can be stressful for parents, particularly mothers. The experience of psychological distress increases with the number of hours both men and women (especially) spend doing housework or home-schooling. The association appears to be driven by hours spent home-schooling rather than hours doing housework.
  • The amount of time parents spend actively helping their children with schoolwork does not vary much by parents' educational background, although children whose parents have degrees are more likely to spend 4 or more hours than those with parents with a GCSE or lower level qualification, and highly educated mothers spend more time doing childcare and home schooling than less-educated mothers.
  • Children in single parent households do not appear to be losing out on home learning or childcare. A higher proportion of pupils (59%) living in single parent households have their own computer compared to those living with more than one adult in a household (44%). Single parents spend the same amount of time on childcare and home schooling than multiple adult households, although they do spend more time on housework.
  • Only 4% of pupils have no access to a computer, laptop or tablet. However, 51% of pupils need to share their devices with others.
  • Boys are doing less schoolwork at home than girls - 58% of boys and 70% of girls spend 2 hours or more a day doing their schoolwork. Few children are doing 4 or more hours schoolwork per day, particularly younger age groups.

Francis Green of University College London (UCL) Institute of Education has published his paper 'Schoolwork in lockdown: new evidence on the epidemic of educational poverty'. This draws on data from the same Understanding Society COVID Survey. His report focuses on a sample of 4,559 children.

  • One fifth of pupils did no schoolwork at home, or less than an hour a day – and this was reported as highest in Scotland (26%). Only 17 percent did more than four hours a day (14% in Scotland).
  • Children in receipt of free school meals are far less likely to have spent more than four hours on schoolwork (11%) than other children (19%). One in five of those on free school meals had no access to a computer at home. Free school meal pupils did, however, receive more help from their parents or a family member than other children.
  • The report does not find any significant differences in remote learning by ethnicity.

The National Foundation for Education published its report on pupil engagement in remote learning. The report is based on findings from a national survey of 1,233 senior leaders and 1,821 teachers in publicly-funded, mainstream primary and secondary schools in England. Responses between 7 and 17 May have been weighted by phase and free school meal (FSM) eligibility to provide a nationally representative picture. The report conveys teachers' concerns about relatively low levels of engagement of pupils and their parents, particularly pupils with limited access to IT and/or study space; vulnerable pupils; pupils with special educational needs and disabilities; pupils eligible for Pupil Premium funding; and young carers.



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