The Childhood Trust has said it is “extremely concerned” about the way the lockdown measures amidst the COVID-19 pandemic are disproportionately affecting disadvantaged children and young people in London.
Families who were already living in poverty and enduring hard and challenging times have had to endure lockdown in “appalling circumstances”.
“For children in poverty, the crisis has multiplied the impact of the adversities they endure such as hunger, fear, isolation and stigma. The consequence of this have not yet begun to be understood,” said Laurence Guinness, chief executive of The Childhood Trust.
The report points to physical and emotional abuse and says that in lockdown children and young people are spending more time with their family members, which increases the opportunity for them to witness domestic abuse or endure physical or emotional abuse.
Furthermore, with increased stresses due to lockdown measures including unemployment and a rise in alcohol consumption, children and young people have not been able to ‘take refuge’ at school or youth clubs when teachers and coaches are trained to spot signs of abuse and neglect.
Jaine Stannard, chief executive of School Home Support, a Childhood Trust funded charity that supports disadvantaged state school pupils, warns of a “tsunami of safeguarding referrals” once children return to school while SHS has reported a 750% rise in the number of children needing to be referred to social services compared to the same period in 2019.
With alcohol retail sale rising by 21% since the beginning of lockdown and with 2.6 million children living with a hazardous drinker and 705,000 living with someone who is alcohol dependent, children are more likely to witness their parents’ drinking patterns. In addition, alcohol dependency is linked to violence, domestic abuse and sexual assault and therefore this could cause an adverse effect on children and young people.
Furthermore, with children and young people spending more time online during lockdown, there is an increased opportunity for them to be targeted by sexual offenders. As a result, reports of online obscene material more than doubled globally to more than 4 million between March and April.
The report also warns of mental health problems among children and young people with the pandemic creating uncertainty and instability for this group.
It highlights a survey carried out by the charity YoungMinds which asked 2,000 young people with a history of mental health problems if the pandemic had worsened their condition with 32 per cent saying it had made their mental health much worse and 51 per cent saying it had made their condition a bit worse.
Young carers are also facing increased pressures coupled with the fear of ‘bringing the virus home’ to family members.
While more mental health support has adapted and is provided online, the report warns that not all children and young people have internet access and secondly, there can be a lack of privacy in discussing issues while at home.
Dr Maria Loades of the University of Bath said; “Current social distancing measures enforced on children because of COVID-19 are likely to increase the risk of depression and probably anxiety as well as possible post-traumatic stress.”
The Childhood Trust also highlights the loss of education and says the educational attainment gap defined by class and economic status was already a “significant challenge” before the coronavirus and says that the epidemic will exacerbate this as pupils become increasingly dependent on their own resources. Yet students from disadvantaged backgrounds have significantly fewer resources, including limited access to technology.
Disadvantaged young people are also facing hunger and malnutrition with many having previously relied on their free school meal for their only hot meal of the day. Families who have experienced unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic are also struggling, the report adds.
It points to young people at risk of homelessness and housing instability and says that often the younger age group are staying with friends or ‘sofa surfing’ rather than rough sleeping although this makes it difficult fore them to maintain hygiene during the pandemic and places them in over-crowded accommodation.
Finally, the report warns that disadvantaged young people often live in accommodation with no gardens or outdoor space which can prove challenging to maintain physical health and fitness through outdoor play.
The Childhood Trust has launched the Champions for Children campaign to raise £3 million to fund 96 charities which support 170,000 children and young people in London.
Children in Lockdown – The Consequences of the Coronavirus Crisis for Children living in poverty