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Covid-19: How have children and young people been affected?

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What has changed, and who it has changed for

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Implications for a wellbeing-based recovery

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Measures and resources you can use

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What has changed?

We’ve been crowdsourcing evidence and it suggests that age is important when we’re thinking about the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. While children and young people are at lower risk of suffering serious symptoms from acute Covid-19 disease, their wellbeing has been affected in other important ways and can have longer term impacts. 

We don’t yet have comprehensive wellbeing data collected regularly in schools, so we’ve done our best to round up the impact on children and young people from age 0-24. There are a lot of different experiences across these age groups and adults can sometimes see things differently to young people themselves, so do add more information to the crowdsourcing if you can.

Activities and opportunities

  • Children and young people reported their levels of physical activity dropped during lockdown. In 2018/19 Sport England reported the proportion of children doing less than 30 min of physical activity per day was approximately 29%.  During the pandemic this percentage oscillated between 40 and 50%, with 10% of children doing no physical activity at all. Studies from overseas suggest that reduced physical activity among children and teenagers during the lockdown was accompanied by reduced time outdoors and increased screen-time.

  • Young people in low income areas of England and Wales reported missing taking part in team sports and the social benefits of exercising with friends. Many also highlighted a lack of access to space as reasons why their levels of physical activity dropped.

  • The experience of younger children during lockdown may have been different. According to a survey by EduKit of pupils in England, younger children were doing more daily exercise and eating more healthily than older pupils.  Positively, children in deprived areas of Wales were reported to be eating more fruit and less takeaways.

Home learning

Relationships with friends and family

  • Lockdown was particularly damaging for children and young people’s social lives. Over three quarters said their inability to socialise with friends and family was their biggest concern at the time. In May, nearly half of the youngest children (aged two to four) were reported to be spending no time playing with other children in their household.

  • Feelings of loneliness have been widespread during the pandemic, with young people (aged 18-24) experiencing this acutely. 44% of young people reported they felt lonely during the lockdown, compared to 24% of older adults. Other data reports a 63% increase in feelings of loneliness among young people, compared to the previous year. Loneliness has also been a major concern among younger children: over 800,000 pupils at state schools in England report feeling lonely ‘very often’.

  • Kooth, a digital support service for young people, saw a 30% increase from last year in the proportion of children and young people expressing concerns about strains in family relationships. 

  • Younger people are less likely to have experienced social cohesion and support among their neighbours and local communities in lockdown, compared to those aged 65 or over.

  • From a more positive perspective, more than a quarter of parents - especially mothers - reported that their relationship with their children has improved since the lockdown, while less than 5% reported it had become worse. Improvements in parent-child relationships are partly explained by the greater time invested in caring and home schooling (up to 30 hours a week).

Young adults’ financial wellbeing

  • Young people are among those at higher risk of job loss due to Covid-19. The Resolution Foundation notes that an additional 640,000 people aged 18-24 could find themselves unemployed over the coming year. This group is also more likely to have experienced a negative labour market outcome compared to those aged 35-44. 

  • Household incomes have fallen, particularly among young and low-earning workers. Indeed, 16% of 18 to 24 year olds have been unable to isolate as much as they would like because of financial concerns (compared with 11% of 55 to 64 year olds). Young people may have also found it difficult to cut back on spending because they have usually spent a lower proportion of their budget on goods and services that are not essential.

Why this matters for wellbeing and wellbeing inequalities

All the negative impacts noted above can be linked to each other: 

In turn, mental health difficulties can affect children’s academic attainment, and being less fit also can impact their learning. Adolescents are at a unique period in their lives when the social environment is important for crucial functions in brain development, self-identity, and mental health.

According to the Good Childhood Report, children’s sense of purpose, particularly in relation to school and academic achievement, has been declining over the last decade. These trends are at risk of being exacerbated by the pandemic and the subsequent widening of wellbeing inequalities between age groups. 

There are other demographic, social, and economic factors that can also put  specific groups of children and young people at higher risk of poor wellbeing than others.

“Children’s lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus.
They have been left unable to attend school or see friends and relatives, while at the same time being trapped at home with parents and siblings who may have their own worries and anxieties about the situation.
Even before the pandemic, children’s happiness with life was at its lowest since 2009, and we know there is a link between low wellbeing and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Urgent action is needed now to reset how we support children’s wellbeing and prevent this crisis harming a whole generation of young people.
That must mean introducing measurement of children’s wellbeing, support throughout the new school year, a properly funded early intervention strategy and better financial support for low-income families.”

Mark Russell, Chief Executive - The Children's Society

How can this evidence shape a wellbeing-based recovery?

  • Collect and report wellbeing outcomes by age, and incorporate an intergenerational perspective in every policy we design and implement, at local and national levels.

  • Use good comparable metrics to monitor children’s wellbeing in schools, going beyond traditional indicators of academic achievement, for instance, addressing the long-term mental health concerns among young people. 

  • Returning to school may ease the food insecurity of children seen during lockdown and re-establish their valued contact with teachers and classmates, making their lives more satisfying. 

  • Young students returning to university premises may also benefit from recovering their personal space and sociability.

  • Safeguard relationships at home, as the combination of greater stress and reduced access to services for vulnerable children and their families may increase the risk of family violence and abuse

  • Look beyond averages at different groups, and how the characteristics of different groups intersect.

Measures and Resources

Measures that matter

  • If you’re interested in measuring children’s overall wellbeing, the Good Childhood Index, developed by The Children’s Society, is a short questionnaire that can be completed by children themselves.

Resources you can use

  • We know relatively little about what activities help reduce loneliness in children and young people – partly because the research has focused on older groups, but also because children may interpret loneliness slightly differently from adults. Our Centre Brief Guide to Measuring Loneliness has recommended measures for children & young people on pg 12.
  • Children's mental wellbeing and ill-health: not two sides of the same coin (blog and infographic)
Copyright © 2020 What Works Centre for Wellbeing, All rights reserved.

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