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Impact of COVID-19 on young people

This briefing outlines our key concerns and recommendations around the impact of COVID- 19 on children in poverty, refugee and migrant children, young people at risk, and around children’s mental health and well-being.

We hope it can help inform decisions that will minimise the impact of this pandemic on children, particularly those in the most vulnerable situations.

Number of pages:

20 pages

Date published:

Children in poverty

Whilst impacting every child in the country, COVID-19 is likely to have a particularly pernicious impact on the estimated four million children and young people already living in poverty in the UK.

Furthermore, we estimate that 1.7 million children aged 10-17 are living in a household with problem debt and an estimated 2.1 million children of the same age are living in a household where there has been difficulty paying the bills.

Financial instability will rise during the COVID-19 crisis and low-income families already unable to budget for unexpected expenses will be hit the hardest.

  • School closures, while an important way to stave the spread of COVID-19, could result in increased social isolation for young people. Although many schools are providing online learning, children whose families cannot afford access to laptops, phones or adequate internet or phone connections are likely to miss out on vital learning. For children who cannot access any such e-learning that schools are providing, there is also an added risk of stigma or shame.
  • Costs of living will increase for families as more children are at home, while earnings for parents are likely to decrease, meaning families will struggle with the cost of food and other essentials.
  • Increased childcare responsibilities for parents while children are not in school, and without the possibility of help from family networks (such as grandparents), are also likely to put additional financial strain on families.

Refugee and migrant children

In 2019 we provided support to 1,496 refugee and migrant children and young people. We work with separated children, as well as children in asylum-seeking families, children in families with no recourse to public funds and vulnerable children and families applying to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).

Many of the refugee and migrant children and families we support are at high risk of discrimination, destitution, social isolation and are dependent on specialist advice and advocacy services just to be able to access their rights and entitlements in the UK.

The COVID-19 crisis is putting immense pressure on such services, meaning these risks are likely to increase for refugee and migrant children during this time. We are particularly concerned for those with a precarious immigration status, as well as those who may have leave to remain but are subject to the no recourse to public funds condition (NRPF). We know that because of this exclusion, there is a high risk that many of these children will fall between the cracks, unable to access healthcare, likely to suffer an income shock, insecure housing or miss out on vital support like school meal vouchers during this crisis.

Due to the long-term disruption that will be caused by COVID-19, we know that local authority resources and capacity will be taken up in dealing with the outbreak, civil society work will likely be disrupted and services such as outreach scaled back. Already vulnerable and isolated families will be pushed further to the brink

Young people at risk

We are concerned that the situation for many of the most vulnerable children living in society could get worse over the next few months and potentially over the next few years as a result of COVID-19.

We strongly believe that we must continue to provide support to all of the most vulnerable children in our society and need to consider how best to support children in care, children at risk of being exploited, including those who are going missing from home or care, children at risk of abuse or neglect at home, children who may be at risk of homelessness and for young carers.

During this challenging time many vulnerable children will be becoming adults and may miss on provision of support that will help them thrive in the future. It is important that provision of support with transitions to adulthood continues, or where it is delayed, provided after the emergency.

Some of the issues that apply to all vulnerable children are: 

  • Safeguarding: children should be safeguarded and plans need to be put in place for each vulnerable child to have an identified trusted professional who can check on their safety and well-being 
  • Communication: availability of support may be affected but care should be taken that children always receive age appropriate communication about changes and helped to deal with situation they face 
  • Reducing delay: while some delays with provision of support may happen as a result of COVID-19 it is important that monitoring is in place to provide service once it is possible and as soon as possible 
  • Advocacy: children’s wishes and feelings should continue underpin support and care they receive

Mental health and well-being

Children’s well-being has been in decline in this country since 2009. The rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus is resulting in massive and widespread changes to daily life and will have consequences for children’s well-being.

For young people with mental ill-health the effects of the virus may be particularly challenging. There are currently one in eight children aged 5-19 in England who have a diagnosable mental health condition.

COVID-19 may result in heightened feelings of anxiety and worry and could exacerbate low-mood and other mental health conditions. 

Full report

If you'd like more information on how COVID-19 impacts young people and our policy recommendations to minimise the impact, read the full briefing.

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