Urgent action is needed to prevent an entire generation of children and young people from being harmed by the effects of the coronavirus crisis.

That was the message from the Children’s Society, after a survey of just over 2,000 young people and their parents revealed nearly one in five children, the equivalent of 1.1m, reported being unhappy as a result of lockdown.

Disciples Together

The survey comes hot on the heels of the launch of Disciples Together which explores the growing gulf between our work and the reality of life for young people. Disciples Together explores how we can embrace change and create a more intergenerational church for the benefit of God’s work in the world.

Dissatisfied with their lives

The survey found 18 per cent of children were dissatisfied with their lives overall. For the last five years, that figure has ranged from 10 per cent to 13 per cent.

The Children’s Society says the coronavirus crisis and lockdown is likely to explain the worrying surge. Its report, Life On Hold, also found that 50 per cent of parents expected the Coronavirus to harm their children’s happiness over the coming year.

For the last two years, more children reported being unhappy with school than with nine other aspects of their lives. But this year more young people said they were dissatisfied with the amount of ‘choice’ they have. This was echoed by 46 per cent of parents.  Being unable to see friends and family was one of the aspects of the lockdown that children reported to be struggling with most.

But, 84 per cent of children said they had coped to some extent with the overall impact of the pandemic. Girls reported coping less well than boys with being unable to see friends, with school or college closures and with exam cancellations.

The Children’s Society also held virtual consultations with 150 young people aged eight to 9, asking them whether Coronavirus had changed how they felt about the future.

“It’s quite scary because you can die from it. I’m scared that the school has closed down. I’m worried about my exams next year. I need my exams to get a job,” said one 15-year-old boy.

An 18-year-old said: “People aren’t really understanding things like how much stress this is putting on some people, because I’m really anxious about this all the time, my dad is anxious about this all the time.”

The survey found fears about the financial impact of Coronavirus among parents – and evidence that children in poverty were more worried during the lockdown.

Nearly two in three parents (63 per cent), said adults in the household had worked less. Almost half said family income had reduced and 11 per cent said an adult in their household had lost their job. A higher proportion of young people in poverty stated they were ‘very worried’ about Coronavirus than those not in poverty (23 per cent compared to 15 per cent). Overall, nine in 10 of all children (89 per cent) said they were worried to some extent about Coronavirus.

Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society, said: “Children’s lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus crisis and these worrying findings suggest it has already harmed the happiness and well-being of many young people.

“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 for a decade and we know there is a link between low well-being and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

“Urgent action is needed now as we recover from Coronavirus to reset how we support children’s well-being and prevent this crisis harming a whole generation of young people.

“That must mean introducing measurement of children’s well-being, support as they return to school, a properly funded early intervention strategy and better financial support for low-income families.”

The Children’s Society is calling for:

• National measurement of children’s well-being to help inform plans to make a positive difference – as it does already for young people aged over 16 and adults.

• A review of schooling by the Department for Education to ensure pupils’ well-being is considered not just in the short-term as schools re-open – but becomes a permanent priority underpinning all aspects of school life including the National Curriculum, exams and behaviour management.

• More investment in open-access community mental health services where children can get support with their emotional well-being. This should be part of an early intervention strategy backed by dedicated local grants.

• Better financial support for low-income families; for instance, £10 per week increases in child benefit, the child element of child tax credit and Universal Credit; scrapping the benefit cap and two-child limit; tackling the five-week wait for Universal Credit by offering advance payments as grants rather than loans.

Diocesan resources

As we emerge from lockdown, we are all facing a variety of emotions and circumstances. For churches we have put together this resource to guide you as you come out of lockdown. Parishes may also like to use our Parish Planning Tool as they consider their way forward.

Season 4 of Bishop Steven’s My Extraordinary Family podcast can guide you through the trauma and loss of the past months and provide wisdom for building positive responses.

Season 4 of the My Extraordinary Family podcast, Reflections For a Church in Lockdown, is essentially about dealing with trauma and loss and building positive responses.