Opinion - Out of the pandemic: a road to recovery for our children

Peter Wanless
Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, discusses how to help children ease out of lockdown.

Peter Wanless: More ambitious recovery and rebuilding planning is needed. Picture: NSPCC
Peter Wanless: More ambitious recovery and rebuilding planning is needed. Picture: NSPCC

In the past six months no one has been left unaffected by the pandemic, by lockdown and from the uncertainty we are living through. For adolescents, already navigating perhaps the most challenging period of their lives, the impact is likely to be significant and, in some cases, lasting.

Many will be feeling less in control of their futures with the economy shaken, while closed schools and cancelled exams left progression to the next phase in their lives uncertain. And while the Black Lives Matter movement gave young people a voice to confidently speak out about hatred and discrimination, we know from calls to Childline how racism is shockingly making some teenagers feel targeted and scared of violent attacks in the UK in 2020. 

Today we release our flagship ‘How safe are our children’ report which for the first time brings together data on the scale of abuse against adolescents. It will be invaluable for professionals as they respond to the impact of the pandemic on older children. 

But to ensure no young person is left behind due to the effects of lockdown we need government leadership. 

We know the risk of abuse and neglect for some children has been compounded by the pandemic as increased pressure has been put on families and support services have been reduced. It has also put children out of reach for long periods of time from the adults who can keep them safe.  

Contacts to the NSPCC Helpline with concerns about children suffering abuse and neglect have increased. Worries about emotional abuse have doubled.   

Children continue to turn to Childline for support about their mental health, and the uncertainty of local lockdowns and spikes in the virus will be adding strain to young people’s emotional wellbeing.  

They are struggling with the reality of school closures, being isolated from friends and being trapped at home all day, sometimes in stressful or harmful situations. 

When they return to school it’s vital all children have access to the support they need. I welcome the UK government’s investment in a training scheme to help teachers support young people with their mental health when they return to the classroom. 

The next step is making sure this will complement programmes already in place in schools – such as the introduction of mental health support teams.  

Supporting young people’s wellbeing in schools has never been so important as it is today. But recovery for those who have suffered abuse and neglect during lockdown needs to go further. 

Children and adolescents can recover from the negative experiences they have experienced with the right help so we need to be prepared to make sure schools, and teachers, children’s social care and other safeguarding partners are ready to support every young person who has suffered during lockdown. 

This needs to be joined up. Across the UK, governments must back and resource multi-agency partnerships that draw on local expertise in schools, children’s service, the NHS and police to review exactly what support is available for vulnerable children. 

Children missing education can be at greater risk so these partnerships must pay particular attention to those who didn’t engage during lockdown and are missing class today.  

If specialist support isn’t up to scratch in an area it must be made available urgently and be generously supported by funding for children’s social care in the upcoming spending review.  

We pulled together and got behind the NHS and essential support services during the pandemic and now we need to do the same for the key services and workers who will be crucial to supporting children during the next phase of this crisis.  

More ambitious recovery and rebuilding planning is needed by governments across the UK so no child who has suffered is left without support and this generation do not become the long-term victims of the pandemic.

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