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.

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

The next section covers evidence relating to children and young people whose circumstances may place them at increased risk of some of the negative impacts of the pandemic.

7.1 Poverty

Poverty and the Impact of Coronavirus on Young People and Families in Scotland

Source: Includem

Date: October 2020

This report is based on findings from a survey of 126 young people and families that Includem works with. Key findings are presented below:

  • Families surveyed said that the five biggest areas of financial pressure were food insecurity, the cost of heating their home, transport costs, housing costs and accessing the internet.
  • Two thirds of the young people and families reliant on social security said that they were in a worse financial position than they were pre-pandemic and half said their debt was greater.
  • Nearly half of families surveyed (49%) struggle to put food on the table on a regular basis. This is particularly pronounced for families that rely on social security, 60% of which report struggling to pay for food 'about half the time', 'usually' or 'always'. A similar pattern was seen for heating costs and internet access.
  • The impact of access to and cost of transport costs affects families' access to affordable food, and decisions about attending appointments and work.
  • Three quarters of families said that their mental health had deteriorated because of their worsening financial situation. For those reliant on social security, the impact is even greater with 82% reporting that their mental health is worse now than it was a year ago.
  • Recommendations include basic needs like food - and notably digital access – to be seen as a human right and other needs such as transport to take a rights-based approach. The report states that social security benefits should be sufficient for families to be able to meet all basic needs and that the Scottish Child Payment is needed now. It also calls for a government grant to meet housing costs for families at risk of eviction due to rent arrears.

Further recommendations on the need to address child poverty in Scotland are provided in a recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report.

Children's Neighbourhoods Scotland -The impact of COVID-19 on families, children and young people in Glasgow

Source: University of Glasgow

Date: September 2020

This report highlights the unequal impacts of COVID-19 and how these have been experienced by children and families in high poverty neighbourhoods in Glasgow.

The research involved 15 interviews with service providers in three high poverty neighbourhoods from April to June, and analysis of secondary statistical data. Key messages are:

  • Many families previously in work have fallen into financial crisis as a result of the pandemic. There has been a rapid increase in the number of people now on Universal Credit across Glasgow and there are concerns that many of these new families in poverty are not known to public services. The report highlights the need to focus on supporting new families in crisis – who will need support in the short term to access and navigate public services – and outreach to connect to the support available.
  • Accounts of the experiences of families under lockdown highlighted the interlinked pressures of trying to juggle working from home, with childcare, home-schooling and digital access.
  • Participants reflected that the experience of lockdown differed greatly depending on housing situation. They were concerned that lack of private outdoor space combined with the inability of children to go out and play in the street, was influencing family wellbeing, as was not having enough rooms for family members to spend time on their own.
  • Reduced access to health and social care services experienced during lockdown is likely to have long-term health impacts on some families and children living in areas of social deprivation.
  • Families have experienced increased anxiety due to multiple stressors (e.g. financial, unemployment, home schooling, lack of childcare). The length of social isolation may have long-term effects on mental health and wellbeing.
  • The loss of social relationships and support networks, both formal and informal, placed an additional burden on families during lockdown. Inequality in access to the internet was raised as a concern in terms of being able to access information and maintain relationships during lockdown.
  • Single parents with children at home were especially vulnerable to loneliness during lockdown.
  • Most interviewees were concerned about the potential for a rise in domestic violence.
  • Interviewees highlighted that many 'vulnerable' families who were eligible for a place in the school hubs during lockdown had not taken up the offer, in part due to a sense of stigma.
  • The findings from the research suggest that people who are marginalised on account of disability, families with children with additional support needs, race and ethnicity, religion, have faced additional challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic associated with loss of contact with key workers, disruption to routine and social isolation.

Children's Neighbourhoods Scotland -Rural experiences of COVID-19: Insights from frontline practitioners

Source: University of Glasgow

Date: 22 September 2020

This is the sixth in a series of emerging insights from research[5] that is taking place in high poverty settings across Scotland and seeks to understand how local responses are working in the current rapidly changing context and provide insights that can support the next phase of COVID-19 action at both local and national levels. This report presents the views and experiences of frontline practitioners working in rural communities. Key findings are:

  • COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on some rural communities, particularly those who were already experiencing poverty or disadvantage.
  • Financial pressures, challenges in home learning and added stress on mental wellbeing were amplified in some rural areas by limited access/reductions in public transport links and local support services and stigma often associated with poverty.
  • Food poverty was an issue commonly raised in rural areas. Some of the challenges included stigma associated with food banks, difficulties with supermarket home deliveries that made accessing fresh food difficult for some families, especially those without access to a car.
  • Practitioners reported that many families did not want to accept help (e.g. food deliveries) due to a fear of being judged by neighbours, although some areas reported as shift in attitudes to poverty as it became 'everybody's issue'. Some families had problems in redeeming children's food vouchers locally.
  • Another issue highlighted was transport difficulties and the sense of isolation often experienced by individuals and families living in rural areas, particularly for those reliant on public services.
  • Support will be required to reconnect families with local support services, with an emphasis on building children's confidence as they return to nurseries and school.
  • Increasing understanding of the specific differences experienced by those in rural communities can support targeted recovery planning in these areas.

Magic Breakfast YouGov Teacher Survey (Scotland)

Source: Magic Breakfast

Date: 12 Aug 2020

This survey assesses the impact of COVID-19 school closures on children's education and wellbeing. The survey was conducted between 20 and 29 June 2020 and was completed by 725 primary and secondary school teachers in England and Scotland, with 76 respondents from Scotland. The findings for Scotland are presented below:

  • The majority of teachers surveyed think coronavirus has negatively affected their pupils' educational attainment (80%) and their pupil's mental health and wellbeing (75%).
  • 62% of teachers surveyed think that there will be an increase in children arriving at school hungry (compared to the previous year).
  • 71% of teachers surveyed think that hunger will continue to affect their pupil's ability to catch up on learning lost during COVID-19 school closures. This is not a new issue; however, with 63% of teachers surveyed thinking that hunger affected some of their pupils' ability to learn prior to COVID-19 school closures.
  • The majority of teachers surveyed support programmes to ensure children have access to a free breakfast during term time and school holidays, which most respondents felt would help children catch up on learning.
  • Teachers surveyed (all) felt that the pupils worst affected by COVID-19 were children with no or limited access to technology at home (68%), pupils with child protection services or social services involvement (62%), pupils with SEN (62%) and pupils eligible for FSM (46%). Other groups of note were pupils with a disability and pupils/families who are isolating/shielding.

7.2 Children, young people and families impacted by disability

A Disability Equality Scotland online poll was run at the end of August asking respondents if they had any concerns about the use of face coverings in schools and on school transport. 343 individuals responded, of which 87% had no concerns. Concerns were reported around:

  • stigma for those exempt from the regulations;
  • the impact of face coverings on pupils with hearing impairments and others who rely on lip reading and facial expressions for communications;
  • affordability and availability of face coverings; and,
  • the lack of use or enforcement of face coverings on school transport, particularly when school transport is shared with the general public, which increases transmission risks.

7.3 Care experienced children and young people

Care experienced children and young people's mental health evidence summary

Source: IRISS

Date: 12 Oct 2020

This summary presents general evidence on the mental health of care experienced children and young people but also considers the impact of COVID-19, drawing on a range of UK evidence sources. Key messages are:

  • The impact of the pandemic is particularly concerning given the high rate of mental health difficulties among care experienced young people and the circumstances in which care experienced children and young people live (e.g. living at home in difficult circumstances, care leavers with limited support networks).
  • Social distancing and isolation exacerbate the loneliness and isolation already felt by many of those who do not have the usual family support networks. According to The Children's Society (2020)[6], feelings of anxiety have increased during the lockdown - by 45% for children living in care and by 86% for care leavers.
  • Staying in touch with parents, siblings and other important people helps children develop a sense of identity and belonging and promotes healthy and stable relationships, but it's not always possible to do this digitally (Become, 2020).
  • The views from care experienced young people (in Wales) highlight increasing anxiety around the lack of interactions with support networks, personal advisor / social worker or trusted individuals, and peers (Voices From Care Cymru, 2020).
  • That said, anecdotal evidence suggests that not facing the pressures of being at school has left young people more able to manage stress and anxiety. Smaller class sizes and fewer school days, with a greater focus on well-being and creative activities, may have also resulted in more positive experiences of education. Some have found the opportunity to build stronger relationships with their carers and enjoyed more flexibility around care and support (The Children's Society, 2020[7]).
  • Lack of access to mental health services or support is a long-standing issue that has been exacerbated by the outbreak. According to the Children's Society (2020)[8] placements have been made without ensuring access to mental health support, where services are available new referrals are sometimes not being taken, and thresholds for support have been raised.
  • The evidence highlights the importance of maintaining contact between care experienced children and young people and support networks and family; ensuring provision of digital access; clear communication about any changes in support; and, prioritising safeguarding, safety and wellbeing, in particular the provision of targeted interventions for trauma recovery and mental health support.

7.4 Young carers

No new Scottish evidence to report this month.

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

Covid in Colour: The experiences of young Black and People of Colour Scots during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: Intercultural Youth Scotland

Date: Sep 2020

Intercultural Youth Scotland has published its report involving a survey of 63 young Black and People of Colour (POC) Scots aged 15-25+ (mostly female and under 18). The survey was conducted during the COVID-19 lockdown (May - June 2020) and aimed to explore Black and POC young people's experiences and perceptions of the impact of the pandemic on their academic achievements and mental wellbeing and its potential effects on their life opportunities. Given the small sample size, the findings cannot be deemed to be representative or generalizable to the wider BME community in Scotland.

Key findings were:

  • The young people preferred to use the term young Black and People of Colour Scots (POC) rather than BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) which has sometimes been described to be reductive.
  • A majority of respondents were worried about the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on black and POC people (54%)
  • A majority of respondents expressed concerns about family finances and employment (57% either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: 'I am worried about my family or guardian losing their job and struggling financially'; only 14% disagreed with the statement).
  • Whilst a third (34%) of respondents stated that they were "coping well mentally with the challenges of lockdown", over a quarter (26%) did not.
  • There were mixed findings in relation to young people having access to safe outdoor space during lockdown, with 31% stating that they did and 28% stating that they did not.
  • More than a third of respondents (37%) reported feeling uncomfortable with the increased police presence during lockdown (26% disagreed).
  • The vast majority of the respondents (75%) reported that it had been difficult to continue learning outwith the classroom environment, with half of respondents reporting difficulty in accessing the internet and learning materials.
  • There was mixed evidence on school provision of support and guidance during lockdown, with about a third of respondents reporting some provision and slightly less reporting none. There was a similar mixed picture in relation to students having someone in school to talk to during lockdown.
  • Almost half (45%) of the respondents agreed with the statement that they 'had less opportunities than my white counterparts, and COVID-19 has highlighted this' (26% disagreed with this statement).
  • 68% of respondents believe that their education is at greater risk than their White counterparts due to COVID-19 disruption.
  • Four out of 10 respondents (41%) reported that they have had access to careers counselling services since the disruption of the lockdown while almost a quarter (24%) report otherwise.
  • The report also covers experiences prior to lockdown in school. A majority of respondents (63%) reported that they have experienced or witnessed racism at their school, with more than a third stating that they had witnessed black and POC people being treated more harshly in the classroom.

Recommendations included:

In the short term -

  • To address the consequences of increased police presence during lockdown for young Black & POC Scots. The report states that young people were scared to leave their houses and access open community spaces due to fear of prejudice, racial profiling and racial treatment from authorities. As a result, they had limited opportunities to exercise and socialise, which further affected their mental health.
  • Appropriate risk assessments and race-informed, culturally responsive youth work support for pupils back at school should be carried out and revised according to the changing context of the pandemic.
  • Transparency about how SQA grades were calculated and SQA and further education institutions to take into account predicted grades that may have disadvantaged students according to race, gender, disability, socioeconomic status, migrations status, inter alia.
  • All education stakeholders need to prepare for equitable alternatives for possible future exam cancellations. Such alternatives should mitigate any additional disadvantages faced by marginalised groups.

In the longer term –

  • Recommendations for structural change in Scottish society including addressing institutional racism (e.g. in education), providing race-informed services in particular more culturally-sensitive youth work, and more opportunities for further education opportunities and greater representation of BME young people in COVID-19 research (e.g. funded population level research into their experiences).

The latest report from Children's Neighbourhoods Scotland (see Poverty section) on the impact of COVID-19 on children and families in Glasgow reports that third sector organisations working with BME communities reported BME children and young peoplelacking digital access and having increased caring responsibilities.

7.6 Vulnerable children and young people

The Scottish Government continues to collect data on vulnerable children (and adults) from local authorities and Police Scotland on a weekly basis. View the weekly Scottish Government data charts on vulnerable children and adults.

7.7 Domestic abuse and violence against women and girls

Coronavirus (COVID-19): domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls during Phases 1, 2 and 3 of Scotland's route map

Source: Scottish Government

Date: 18 Sep 2020

This report outlines trends from qualitative evidence on the impact of COVID-19 restrictions from May to August on people experiencing domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women/girls in Scotland. It is based on weekly reports derived from telephone interviews with services and documentary evidence from organisations. Chapter 11 focuses on impact on children and chapter 12 focuses on child contact arrangements.

Key findings on impact on children:

  • Throughout lockdown services received reports of children being exposed to increased levels of abuse due to: prolonged contact with perpetrators when they are not returned after contact; perpetrators' drug and alcohol abuse in the presence of children; the impact of the perpetrator's psychological abuse and monitoring behaviours on the non-abusive parent.
  • There were some reports of children who had fled domestic abuse experiencing severe isolation and digital exclusion (impacting on learning and social contact).
  • Most services communicated that remote engagement with younger children, particularly those aged eight and under, was very difficult. Some therapeutic services stopped all together (e.g. Cedar group therapy) whilst others adapted to provide one-to-one online support.
  • Some services reported a cumulative effect for victims with caring responsibilities for children with additional needs. Victims reported struggling to keep children engaged and supported, particularly in cases where specialist support services were unavailable or additional support/special school places were limited.

Key findings on impact on child contact:

  • The most consistent finding throughout the period of lockdown and Phases 1 to 3 related to abuse perpetrated via child contact.
  • Domestic abuse via child contact took a number of forms. There were consistent reports of perpetrators using telephone and video-call contact with children to monitor victims (e.g. perpetrators instructing children to show them round the house during video-contact).
  • Throughout phase 1 & 2 there were reports of breaches of Coronavirus restrictions and manipulation by perpetrators using the restrictions as a justification for increased contact (e.g. perpetrators used children's potential exposure to the virus as justification for their non-return following planned contact).
  • Access to services and justice was problematic during phases 1 & 2 in particular. Guidance on child contact was ambiguous and there were some reports of women experiencing challenges accessing justice for ongoing harassment and abuse related to child contact.
  • As contact centres were closed during phases 1&2, there were consistent reports from organisations across Scotland of women facilitating child contact outwith the conditions of agreements or court orders, in order to placate perpetrators and manage abuse.
  • During phase 3, some services reported increased incidents of perpetrators attending victims' houses for handover and abuse being perpetrated "on the doorstep".

7.8 LGBTQ+ children and young people

No new Scottish evidence to report this month.

7.9 Children and young people impacted by the Justice system

The Children and Young People's Centre for Justice (CYCJ) is running a series of webinars. The first heard from CYCJ Associate Dr Anthony Charles (Criminology Lead for the Observatory on the Human Rights of Children in Wales and Co-ordinator of the Innovative Youth Justice Team at Swansea University) on how Wales is responding to the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people in conflict with the law (or at risk of being so).

As well as highlighting some unexpected benefits such as greater engagement and levels of contact during the pandemic, and emerging COVID-19-related challenges, Dr Charles also discussed Scotland and Wales' shared commitment to children's rights in youth justice and what both nations can learn from each other. He concluded by asking if the pandemic has led to the emergence of more meaningful forms of youth justice, and if this is an opportunity to re-think the way we do things. Watch the webinar here.

Families Outside, a Scottish charity that works on behalf of families affected by imprisonment, is running a short survey on video visits in Scottish prisons. Results are not yet available.



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