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Life on Hold: children's well-being and Covid-19

Our report looks at the impact Covid-19 has had on young people's health and public freedoms during lockdown.

Number of pages:

38 pages

Date published:

Coronavirus

child holds up hand to a window with STAY HOME written on it

Impact of lockdown

The Coronavirus pandemic, together with the associated social distancing and lockdown measures, have had a substantial impact on health and public freedom.

In May 2020, an estimated 1.27 billion children worldwide were out of school or childcare. With schools in the UK closed to a large proportion of children, parents were left to home school with varying access to internet and other resources. Many people were furloughed and millions were unable to see wider family/friends.

The immediate and long-term effect on the well-being and mental health of children and young people is not surprisingly a key concern.

How has Covid-19 affected young people's mental health?

A recent ONS survey looking at the social impact of coronavirus on young people aged 16-29 suggested that, among those worried about the effect on their lives, primary concerns were the effect on their school or university, their well-being, work and household finances.

Those who reported an impact on their school/university were concerned about exam and qualification uncertainty, the impact on the quality of education and moving to home schooling. Young people who reported an impact on their well-being more often said they were bored and lonely, and that the lockdown was negatively impacting on their mental health.

Unfortunately, the Government has not yet published a comparable study looking at the social impact of COVID-19 on young people aged under 16.

Other studies suggest there have been increases in young people’s levels of anxiety, in emotional, behaviour and attention difficulties among primary aged children (aged 4 to 10 years) and in attention difficulties among secondary aged children.

Research with 2,111 young people (aged 13-25) with a history of mental health needs has also revealed a worsening in mental health for over four-fifths (83%) of respondents, with many reporting heightened anxiety, sleep problems, panic attacks and increased urges to self-harm (among those with a history of doing so). A quarter of these young people also said they no-longer had access to mental health support as a result of the pandemic.

well-being

Thinking about well-being

In terms of children’s well-being, studies have highlighted feelings of loneliness and lower well-being scores.

A recent poll conducted for Barnardo’s by YouGOV reported a rise in issues related to mental health and well-being for at least one in three of the participating 4,000 children and young people (aged eight in Great Britain). Over two-thirds said that not seeing their friends was one of the three hardest things about lockdown.

Some benefits, particularly related to lockdown, have also been reported by children. These have included spending more time with family and outdoors, and relief from certain mental health difficulties and bullying.

young woman big smile

Our well-being key findings

We were keen to further understand the experiences of children and their families in the pandemic and the associated lockdown, and to also look at the well-being of children at this time. 

This report offers a timely summary of parents and children’s responses to survey questions about Covid-19 and their well-being, together with children’s accounts ‘in their own words’.

Here are the key findings:

  • Parents report a wide range of impacts on their family, and on their children’s happiness with friends and how much choice they have in life. 
  • Parents anticipate long term negative impacts on their children’s education. Encouragingly, given the range of impacts reported, only around half expect a long term negative impact on the happiness of adults/ children in the household. 
  • Most children reported having coped to some degree with the changes made as a result of the pandemic. Those areas where they had coped less well were not being able to see their friends and family. The impact on friendships was also reiterated in children’s responses to our consultation, which highlighted feelings of isolation. 
  • While most children are happy/satisfied, a greater proportion than usual scored below the midpoint on our preferred, and usually stable, multi-item measure of life satisfaction, which suggests that some children’s cognitive well-being has been adversely affected. 
  • Parents felt that some children were happier with their time use than before lockdown and children responding to our consultation also highlighted advantages, such as being able to pursue hobbies, and appreciating more what they have in life. 
  • The self-care strategies described by children are reminiscent of the Five Ways to Wellbeing, with their main focus being on connecting with others followed by being active and creative.

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Download the full report for children's reflections on the impact of Covid-19, parents' experiences of the impact on their children and policy implications and recommendations.