What now for children’s recovery?

Mark Russell
Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Sir Kevan Collin’s recent resignation sent shockwaves through government and the children’s sector.

The Children’s Society isn’t an education charity, we work with children on mental health and wellbeing, safety from organised crime, sexual abuse and more, but we too had eagerly anticipated his report and the government’s response.

Having personally met with Sir Kevan to discuss his plans, it was clear to me that he not only understood that gains in children’s learning couldn’t be achieved without gains in their emotional wellbeing, but that he actively championed this. His departure is deeply concerning and it’s worryingly unclear where the government will go next on its plans for children as we emerge from the pandemic.

It’s difficult not to be frustrated by the lack of urgency in the government’s response to the needs of children and young people, who have been so deeply affected by the Covid-19 crisis. These children stayed at home, sacrificing their education, missing friends, family and rites of passage to protect others. It seems our concerns that once children returned to school, and parents were no longer doing the impossible task of home schooling and working, the problem would be out of sight, out of mind were well founded.

The government has been given so much evidence of the overwhelming need among children and young people: NHS data shows children's mental health referrals were 72 per cent higher in September 2020 than in September 2019, NSPCC's Childline service delivered 16,610 counselling sessions about abuse from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021, and the IFS predicts that the time out of school could lead to £300bn loss in future earnings for children. But what is coming out from the government seems so completely at odds with what is required to respond to the scale of need. In April, the Education Secretary launched a crackdown on discipline in response to children returning unsettled from lockdown, and now instead of the comprehensive £14bn package Sir Kevan had recommended, there is a paltry £1.4bn for catch up tutors.

Let us not forget the likelihood that many more children have experienced poverty in the last year. The latest figures date back to March last year, when nearly one in three children in the UK were living in poverty. Under furlough, reduced hours and job losses we are expecting this to have only worsened. Many more families have experienced the absurdity of a five week wait for their first universal credit payment and as a result many too will have had to turn to a foodbank for the first time. In 2020-21 the Trussell Trust gave out 980,082 food parcels to families with children, up from 722,953 the year before.

There has to be a holistic response to the crisis now facing children and young people. This government should be investing in a bold, radical new deal for children across health, education, social care and beyond, so that every child no matter where they live across the country can have a good childhood. There is no area of policy where the government’s levelling up agenda is more urgent.

As we look towards the Spending Review that we expect this autumn, we will not just be calling for the missing billions of funding for our children’s education. We’ll also be demanding investment in early intervention services in children’s social care, in open-access hubs to support children and young people’s mental health, and in continued crisis support for families experiencing financial hardship.

Frankly, the government owes children and their families a debt, not just of gratitude, but of education, of opportunity, of wellbeing. That debt must be repaid in full. The longer the government takes in returning some of what was lost to children, the greater the cost to that generation in the long term.

Mark Russell, is chief executive of The Children’s Society

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