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

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

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

Co-SPACE Study – Supplementary Report 7 – Communication with Friends

Source: Oxford University

Date: 23 Sep 2020

This report presents data tables from survey questions about frequency of contact with friends outside of the home through a variety of means. It is based on data from over 6,000 parents/carers who completed baseline and/or follow-up questionnaires at various time points during the period of March to August. Further analysis is needed to understand better any differences by age, gender, income or SEN. Only the overall figures[9] are discussed below:

  • Although it has increased since lockdown, regular face-to-face contact was still very low in the summer with less than one in five children (of parent respondents) regularly meeting their friends in person in August. For primary age children the increase was from 15% in Jun to 17% in Aug (it rose to 29% in July) whilst for secondary age groups it was 7% to 16% (15% in July).
  • Other modes of contact (social media, phone, text, gaming) have decreased between the lockdown period and August for primary aged children (although but this shift is less obvious in older age groups.
  • Not surprisingly, usage of digital communication methods was significantly higher in secondary aged pupils compared to younger children, with 73% communicating with friends via text during lockdown (this remained constant during the study period to Aug); 59% communicating via social media (reducing to 53% in Aug); 47% communicating via video (reducing to 34% in Aug) and 53% communicating via gaming in June (remaining constant during the study period).
  • The low levels of regular contact across all modes of communications measured (digital and in person) for primary aged children suggest that this age group in particular may have missed out on months of regular peer interaction and all the benefits that come with that for wellbeing and development (particularly perhaps children without siblings). Further evidence is needed however to confirm this emerging finding.

The Children's Society Good Childhood Report 2020 (UK) was published last month. As well as presenting predominant trends in (subjective) well-being, the reports seeks to understand the experiences of children who have low well-being and what enhances and hinders children's happiness. The report describes how even before the pandemic, teenagers in the UK were among the unhappiest in Europe. Compared to 21 comparable European countries, children's well-being in the UK showed the largest drop in mean life satisfaction between 2015 and 2018 at both time points. This is particularly worrying given the current context. The report cites findings from its annual survey (see next item).

Life on Hold: Children's Wellbeing and COVID-19(UK-wide)

Source: The Children's Society

Date: July 2020

This report draws on data from the Children's Society's annual household panel survey which was conducted between April and June 2020 with just over 2,000 young people aged 10 to 17 across the UK (including Scotland), and their parent or carer. As well as including routine questions on children's overall well-being and their happiness with different aspects of life, a number of questions were included in our 2020 survey to gauge the impact of Coronavirus and the lockdown measures on children's lives. The research also included consultation with 150 young people aged between 8 and 19 years on how they felt about lockdown and the impact on their future.

  • 49% of parent respondents said that their income had been reduced and one in ten said that adults in household had lost their job.
  • 32% of parent respondents said that members of the household classed as vulnerable. This is very similar to figures reported in a Scottish adult panel survey (see SG C&F July briefing).
  • Nearly one in ten parent respondents (8%) said that they had experienced a close family bereavement. This is very similar to figures reported in a Scottish adult panel survey (see SG C&F July briefing).
  • Despite concerns about education and family finances, only around half of parents felt the happiness of adults and children in the household would be negatively affected.
  • Encouragingly, the majority of parents felt that children's happiness had only been adversely affected in two out of seven aspects of life examined (happiness with friends and how much choice they have in life).
  • With the exception of not being able to see friends, the majority (over half) of child respondents felt they were coping ok with the changes (scored above the midpoint on a scale of 0-10). Scores for girls were lower than boys', in particular in relation to seeing friends.
  • Interestingly, most children reported coping ok with the various restrictions including washing hands (86% above midpoint); social distancing (78%) and socially isolating (69%).
  • Children in relative poverty were more likely to indicate that they were very worried (23%) than peers who were not in relative poverty (15%). This is consistent with other evidence.
  • In terms of general well-being, most children continue to be happy/ satisfied with their life overall and different aspects of life. However there were some shifts compared to last year:
    • Life Satisfaction Scale: 18% of children scored below the midpoint on a multi-item measure of life satisfaction and are therefore deemed to have low well-being[10].
    • Good Childhood Index: A shift was seen from previous years in relation to the area of life that children are least happy with – from school (pre-pandemic) to 'choice' (post-pandemic) which is not surprising given the enforced lockdown and associated implications. Low scores were also higher for relationships with friends.
    • WEMWBS: The average mental wellbeing score was very slightly lower than other studies have reported[11], and girls' scores were lower than boys (this was the first year this measure was included).
  • The report calls for a more comprehensive national approach to collecting data on children's subjective well-being and a focus on wellbeing when children return to school, specifically: re-establishment of friendships, choice, a wellbeing focus on any learning catch-up plans to reduce anxiety and more rounded approach to supporting mental health which includes music, art, connecting with others and sport – all factors which children said had helped them during lockdown.

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 for households with children. Findings cannot be generalised to the wider population as the sample is not representative.

  • People with children showed slightly lower likelihood of strong intentions towards getting a COVID-19 vaccine (Week 26-27 report).
  • Decreases in depression and anxiety have occurred across every subgroup. However, 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 (Week 28-29 Report).
  • People living with children have worried more about all factors (COVID-19, unemployment, finance and getting food).
  • Differences in life satisfaction have eased off for people living with children as lockdown has eased. In contrast, loneliness levels are lower than 22 weeks ago and continue to be highest in younger adults, people living alone, people with lower household income, people living with children, people living in urban areas, and people with a diagnosed mental health condition.

Childhood in the time of Covid (England)

Source: Children's Commissioner for England

Date: 29 September 2020

The Children's Commissioner for England has published a report examining the impact of the coronavirus crisis on children and young people in areas including education, social care, health, youth justice, housing, and family life. The report includes specific recommendations in each area to help children recover from their experiences, and calls for: a comprehensive recovery package for children and young people; children to be put at the heart of planning for further lockdowns; and children's rights and protections to be upheld.

The report describes the wide-ranging impact of COVID-19 on children and families. It presents evidence on the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on children's lives, particularly vulnerable children (including children in care, children in custody and children with SEND) who are at increased risk of further inequalities. The report highlights the need to adapt our response to COVID-19 – lessening the burden placed on our most vulnerable children in the event of further lockdowns – and the need to address the underlying issues which made these children and their families vulnerable in the first place.



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