Pandemic takes toll on children's mental wellbeing

Derren Hayes
Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a rise in mental ill health, behavioural problems and family conflict among disadvantaged children, according to latest research.

Three quarters of support workers reported a rise in families accessing mental health support during the pandemic. Picture: AdobeStock
Three quarters of support workers reported a rise in families accessing mental health support during the pandemic. Picture: AdobeStock

A survey of nearly 1,000 frontline workers supporting families living in poverty found that the vast majority reported a significant deterioration in children’s emotional health and wellbeing during the coronavirus lockdown.

The research by Buttle UK for its State of Child Poverty 2020 report found that 84 per cent of frontline workers had seen a rise in children and young people’s mental health problems, with 77 per cent reporting a rise in families accessing mental health support during the 10-week national lockdown, during which schools were closed to the majority of pupils.  

The stress caused by home schooling and increased financial worries resulted in rising tensions at home with three quarters of workers reporting a rise in child behavioural problems and increased difficulties in parent-child relationships.

The Covid-19 crisis also compounded adverse childhood experiences – in addition to rising mental health problems among children, support workers reported higher rates of domestic abuse (67 per cent) and child neglect (40 per cent).

The survey highlights the challenges that families living in poverty faced in meeting children’s everyday needs during the lockdown. A third of workers reported that a shortage of food had affected children’s ability to learn, while 26 per cent said families had struggled with home schooling due to lack of digital access. Nearly one in six said children had received no education during lockdown.

Respondents felt that having months out of education, living in chaotic environments with disrupted routines and no formal education will make it very difficult for children to adjust back to routines within school - 36 per cent of respondents said that there would be barriers around getting back into a structured attentive routine and 30 per cent reported that there would be issues around gaps in schooling and catching up.

Buttle UK chief executive Joseph Howes said: “For many children and young people, the pandemic has only amplified the difficulties that already existed in their lives, increasing their isolation and forcing them to spend many hours in homes that lack the bare essentials and comforts most of us take for granted. So many are not getting their basic needs met.

“The families at the heart of this report provide some of the most graphic examples of what the real impact of the crisis has been and indicates what is to come unless we act now. To address these challenges as we try to recover from the crisis is going to take imagination and collaboration between statuary, voluntary and private sectors.”

The survey also gathered information about the impact of the pandemic on families’ economic wellbeing. Key findings include:

  • More than 30 per cent of families have made new claims for universal credit
  • 10 per cent of vulnerable families lost their jobs, a rate 20-fold higher than the average
  • 83 per cent of frontline workers saw a rise in foodbank use and 64 per cent for local authority welfare assistance
  • 47 per cent of families were unable to afford food.

Buttle UK is working with frontline workers to distribute a Covid Response fund of nearly £4m to help vulnerable children. Chances for Children grants of up to £2,000 are available to pay for a range of items and costs.

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