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 services

Scottish Evidence

The Children's Neighbourhoods Scotland project (University of Glasgow) is continuing to produce early insight papers. This month's paper covers learning from the Children's Hubs:

  • Speed of development: Interviewees felt that the learning from the rapid set-up of the hubs offers a valuable opportunity to review processes but requires flexibility, space to innovate and capacity.
  • Creation of new collaborative ways of working: Interviewees commented that COVID-19 had "forced the agenda" of joined up working and challenged silo ways of working. Consideration should be given to how these new ways of working can be sustained and built on as part of the planning for schools to return in August.
  • Implications for learning: The focus of the hubs on childcare rather than learning has led to the design of creative solutions to engage the children and young people who attend. Interviewees stated that they had seen higher levels of engagement than expected from some children and young people. Consideration should be given to reviewing and learning from these approaches.
  • Looking outwards: The activity in hubs has gone beyond the provision of childcare. Examples include designing PPE for NHS workers and creating community art for the local hospital. There is an opportunity to consider the design of the curriculum and where these new or different learning opportunities might be incorporated or replace those that may now be less relevant.

The aforementioned study by CYCJ reported some findings of relevance to youth justice services:

  • Requests of government from children and young people included more financial help and reassurance for care experienced young people 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 highlighted as an issue by respondents.
  • The impact of changes to the operation of the justice system were mentioned by children and young people and practitioners. 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 practitioners reported can cause stress and uncertainty. There was support from some practitioners for a move to more virtual hearings.
  • Experiences of remote service provision are consistent with other studies: barriers include lack of technology and privacy at home, and the challenges of building new relationships.
  • Services are using a range of creative methods including various technological platforms, to keep in touch but also to run fun activities and projects. This ability to provide light-hearted support has been identified as particularly important for young people's morale, wellbeing and mental health. Face-to-face contact (e.g. physically distanced walks) has been important for more isolated children and children where there are concerns for their welfare and wellbeing.
  • The report highlights the need to be prepared for the long-term impact of COVID-19 on mental health and wellbeing. It was felt vital that practitioners maintain efforts to keep in touchwith and support children, young people and their families and also equally important that children are supported to stay in touch with family and friends.
  • The report includes a number of case studies of how services are responding to COVID-19 restrictions This includes innovative uses of social media, digital access support, close partnership working (e.g. with community police), online staff tools, safe face-to-face contact (e.g. using hula hoops with young children, walks), getting young people involved in COVID-19 volunteer work, provision of COVID-19 packs and food parcels, and a range of fun and creative activities to keep children and young people engaged and staff morale up (e.g. competitions, quizzes, film clubs etc.).

The Justice Analytical Services (SG) report on domestic abuse referenced earlier (see 'Children and families impacted by domestic abuse' section) reports similar experiences - children's support services reported challenges experienced around engaging with and supporting children remotely by telephone or other digital platforms, particularly younger children. Engagement with women with children was sometimes reported as more difficult by services.

UK Evidence

The UK Co-SPACE study (referenced earlier) published a supplementary report on parenting support services which suggests that demand is highest for advice in managing children's emotions. Key findings are:

  • Only a quarter (24%) of Scottish respondents have accessed support in relation to their child's response to COVID-19, isolation and relationships (this was similar to other regions).
  • Advice from the internet, schools and specialist services was felt to be the most useful. Satisfaction with internet advice in Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland (analysed together) was much higher than in England.
  • Where parents (across the UK) have sought advice, this was most commonly in relation to managing children or young people's emotions (77%), managing children or young people's behaviours (47%) and managing children or young people's educational demands (41%).
  • Parents were more likely to access support if their child or themselves had a pre-existing mental health condition and/or if they had received support pre-lockdown;
  • There is some indication of demand for specialist services for parents of adolescents, and those who have a child with a pre-existing mental health condition. Parents of adolescents are more likely to seek advice on managing children's emotions and educational demands than parents of younger children. All this indicates that the demand for mental health services is highest for young people.
  • The most popular people/organisations' advice that parents trust are universal services (school and health), followed by the third sector and family/friends. Trust in advice from Government scored much lower (21%).
  • Trust is higher across most services by parents with primary aged children, compared to those with older children. There is some evidence that families with pre-existing mental health conditions are less trusting of advice.

The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) published its report 'Covid-19 and early intervention: Evidence, challenges and risks relating to virtual and digital delivery' in April which comprises a rapid evidence review and a short online survey of children's service providers and developers in England. The report focuses on five areas of children's outcomes - mental health and wellbeing; substance misuse; crime, violence and antisocial behaviour (including children's behavioural problems); risky sexual behaviour and teen pregnancy; and child maltreatment. Key findings from the report are:

  • Virtual and digital interventions can be effective in improving outcomes for young people across a wide range of intervention types and outcome measures (though typically they are found to be equally or less effective than face-to-face) and can work and support service continuity in the current crisis. There are evidence-based programmes which already exist.
  • In general, interventions which have some form of personalisation, interactivity and/or contact with a practitioner – rather than self-directed, non-interactive learning – are more likely to improve outcomes.
  • In terms of achieving larger and more enduring effects, the evidence seems to be stronger for interventions focusing on mental health and wellbeing than for those focusing on substance misuse, risky sexual behaviour and teen pregnancy, or crime, violence and antisocial behaviour.
  • Virtual and digital interventions often face high levels of attrition, where participants drop out or fail to complete the intervention.
  • Further challenges of digital service delivery are digital access and barriers to participation (though many programmes are telephone-based), maintaining effectiveness when moving from a face-to-face to digital format (e.g. developing a trusted relationship), participant engagement (particularly getting vulnerable children and young people to engage with services), and individual preferences (some people are very reluctant to engage digitally).
  • The evidence suggests that digital interventions should clearly identify the core components of an intervention that must be maintained in any adaptation from face-to-face to virtual and digital delivery.

The EIF has also produced an excellent webinar (12 May) on how services for children and families have been responding and adapting to the COVID-19 lockdown. This covers the findings of the report and interviews with local authorities and talks through evidence-based recommendations for services as they adapt to virtual and digital delivery modes. The EIF is supporting services to evaluate their adapted programmes and will be publishing a further report based on interviews with English local authorities about how COVID-19 has impacted on early intervention services.



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