The experience of living through the COVID-19 pandemic is seriously impacting the well-being of children in the UK, a leading child poverty charity has warned.
Children and young people are developing serious mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the Childhood Trust revealed in a report called “Children in Lockdown”, published on June 22.
The report focused on young people in Britain who were living in poverty when the coronavirus outbreak hit. The London-based organisation funds community projects that help alleviate child poverty, and spoke to the families it works with about their lockdown experiences.
It highlights a range of issues that children in lockdown are facing, such as: witnessing more abuse at home; suffering from social isolation; fewer opportunities to play outside; a lack of internet access for learning; as well as food insecurity and the risk of homelessness.
Laurence Guinness, the chief executive of the Childhood Trust, told the BBC that many of the children they spoke to said they were experiencing “vivid nightmares” about COVID-19 and death, a possible side effect of PTSD — defined by the NHS as an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, traumatic events. Side effects include reliving traumatic events in flashbacks or dreams.
Coronavirus: How has it affected young people's mental health? Our new report supporting our #Championsforchildren appeal to help children recover is out today.— @Childhoodtrust (@ChildhoodTrust) June 22, 2020
He said that children were worried that their parents and friends would die. "[It’s related to] the rising death tolls being reported every day,” he said. “These kids have seen all of that and internalised it.”
Some of the children specifically referenced a fear of death. Jonathan, who is eight years old, was quoted in the report as saying: “I feel sad because people are dying all around the world and I’m worried about dying if I caught it."
Meanwhile Emily, 10, said: “I’m really worried about my family getting coronavirus."
The Childhood Trust report corresponds with other data, too. It references research conducted by the youth mental health charity YoungMinds, which found that 32% of children say coronavirus has made their mental health “worse”, while 51% reported it made their mental health “a bit worse”.
Dr. Maria Loades, a clinical psychologist quoted in the Childhood Trust report, said that lockdown measures were “likely to increase the risk of depression and probable anxiety, as well as possible post-traumatic stress."
The report also highlighted the difficulty of providing mental health support to children in lockdown — with a lack of access to technology meaning children from poorer backgrounds who might qualify for counselling can’t necessarily get it.
Meanwhile, many don’t have a private place in the house to speak on the phone for support.
Educational psychologists, specialists who observe how children’s mental health impacts their learning, have warned that when lockdown eases and schools re-open fully in September there will be a lot of work to do to support children who have been struggling during their time away from school.
Dr. Gavin Morgan, who sits on the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group — a team that offers scientific advice to the government during disease outbreaks — told the Guardian on June 20 that “there is going to be a hell of a lot of work to be done from teachers and educational psychologists. We are going to have to pick up a lot of broken pieces and put things back together.”
Lockdown has caused immense strain for many families. An investigation by ITV found the number of children being referred to care homes during lockdown has increased by up to 50%, according to a care company called Salutem, compared to the numbers of referrals received before the pandemic.
The same care company told ITV that it was building nine new care homes to cope with demand. Its chief executive, John Godden, said: “Demand really has gone up an awful lot. [There is a] 30-50% increase in inquiry levels, really notable."
"Lockdown for children who are in foster care, or are in family units that can’t cope with their mental health issues, has had a massive impact,” he added.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education told the Guardian that it had “placed significance on mental health in our planning framework for schools and launched a new training module to support schools to teach well-being issues as part of the curriculum as children go back."