By Mark Willis, Chief Executive of WillisPalmer
Lockdown has impacted on everyone in the UK, regardless of age, gender, class, financial status: everyone has found themselves in situations they have never experienced before.
The liberties we had to go for a walk, meet friends for a coffee, shop for new clothes or celebrate a family birthday with a meal out were, suddenly, overnight, removed from us.
While many adults have struggled, the associated anxieties of lockdown have been compounded amongst young people.
Schools closed save for children of key workers and vulnerable children, clubs and groups cancelled indefinitely, children were prevented from seeing friends and even family members and experienced a lack of routine and locked down at home with their immediate family.
Those fortunate to have loving stable families have benefitted from being helped to navigate their way through lockdown. Parents and carers provided home schooling, created interesting activities, listened to problems and anxieties and explained the effects of Coronavirus on society, educating children to wash hands, socially distance and avoid social situations.
Those less fortunate and growing up in already dysfunctional families have had an entirely different experience.
We are not talking children witnessing a petty argument over frustration due to lockdown. We are talking children witnessing their mother beaten savagely by their already abusive partner whose stresses have been exacerbated tenfold during lockdown.
This is not a case of children witnessing the adults in their family have a glass of wine or two at the weekend: this is children surrounded by drug paraphernalia and empty bottles of spirits while their drunk or drugged parents lay unconscious, unable to cook them a meal.
Children are not watching their mother or father stressed by a lack of social interaction. Vulnerable children are witnessing extreme anxiety, depression, psychosis where parents are so ill that they are unable to offer any type of stability.
These children may not have had a hot meal for days, even weeks, left to fend for themselves. They may not have been washed or bathed or been provided with clean clothes.
And worse, some abusive parents/step-parents/family members will have used the caveat of COVID-19 as a means to abuse their children, safe in the knowledge that they are hidden from schools and children’s services. Children experiencing abuse have no sanctuary of school – as their abuser would ensure they did not attend school – and no children’s services safeguarding them and protecting them from their abusers.
These children have been out of sight and out of mind for the last six months.
Many will not have had access to the internet to at least engage with friends online. Social distancing means they may not have seen a kind family member throughout lockdown.
They have had no sanctuary, no outlet, no access to friends or a concerned teacher noticing a dirty school uniform or bruises. For some, they have literally been incarcerated alongside their abusers for months on end.
This is why WillisPalmer is launching our Children’s Charter in a bid to get vulnerable children identified and to receive some support. We acknowledge readily that teachers will have their hands full getting children’s attainment levels up and managing social distancing. We want the government to support schools and for teachers to be vigilant for signs of abuse, neglect or mental health problems and to refer any safeguarding issues to children’s services as soon as possible.
We want schools to have access to therapists and social workers to help them navigate the system and ensure children are signposted in the right way for the most appropriate service.
We anticipate that children’s services will be flooded with referrals and are calling on the government to ensure that local authorities are funded and resourced to support these children. Where cases are complex, social workers should have access to funding to buy in specialist help.
Children’s professionals must work together to identify children who have experienced hardship, neglect or abuse in lockdown and to ensure they are swiftly referred for support and intervention. Parents and carers who are struggling through emotional/socio or economic hardship should have access to intensive support.
Above all, we want the generation of vulnerable children to be identified and heard and for them to access services as soon as possible to help them recover from the traumas of lockdown and to thrive. No vulnerable child should feel the legacy of lockdown, nor should their lives be blighted by their experiences of it.
Read more about The Children's Charter.