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Childhood in the time of Covid

A Report from the Children’s Commissioner (September 2020)

Although children have fewer health risks from Covid-19, a recent publication by the Children’s Commissioner highlights that many have suffered disproportionately from the nation’s efforts to contain the virus. The report is a sobering read, and highlights that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed and amplified existing inequalities facing vulnerable children and young people.

Key findings from the report include:

Children’s Social Care

Research by the Children’s Commissioner highlights that 2.2 million children are living in households where there is domestic abuse, parental alcohol and or substance misuse or severe parental mental ill health. This equates to about 6 children in the average school class; 100 000 children live in households where all 3 of these issues are present. Lockdown in these households will have been particularly difficult for children and young people. Financial strain also created additional stress for many families, making the lives of children more difficult. Calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline increased by 80% in June and adults seeking help from alcohol services increased 400% between March and April.

Referrals to Children’s Social Care fell by 20% between April and June this year. Schools who are usually best placed to identify concerns were largely closed and other services went online / offered virtual support only so that professionals were not having face to face contact with children and young people. Local authorities expect a surge in demand for services now that schools have reopened.

During lockdown, Children in Care were cut off from seeing families and trusted processionals as family time / contact was cancelled and visits went online. Care leavers often faced lockdown alone. Children and young people in custody had their visits cancelled, education provision removed and were in their cells for an average of 20-23 hours a day.


Over 575 million school days have been missed since March. Although schools remained open for children of key workers and other children identified as vulnerable, average attendance at schools during the early months of the lockdown was just 8%.

Even before the current crisis, the most disadvantaged children are 18 months behind their peers by the time they take their GCSEs in Year 11. Interruptions in education this year mean this gap in attainment will no doubt worsen.

Teachers worked hard to keep schools open and also to provide online / remote learning – but the home conditions of the poorest children and families are not conducive to study. Barriers to learning include a lack of suitable / quiet space, no access to laptops and no internet access at home. The Government have provided laptops and routers for vulnerable children and young people – but so far only 4 out of 10 of those who need them have benefitted from this scheme.

1 in 5 apprentices have been made redundant or left their programme over this period. In August, 2 out of 5 A Level results were downgraded by the Ofqual algorithm; with the poorest children being most likely to have their teacher assessed results downgraded.

24% of early years settings do not expect to be open next year; this figure rises to 34% in the most deprived areas.

Simply reopening schools will not be enough – children will need additional support to help them recover from their experiences over the last 6 months. Vulnerable children, including those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) are most likely to struggle with the reintegration to school after an extended period at home, and with the new routines and rules which have been put in place to ensure the safety of students and staff.

Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)

Children with Education, Health and Care Plans (ECHP) had their rights downgraded during the early part of this year, as the Coronavirus Act removed their absolute right to special educational support and health services. Their right to the provision set out in their ECHP was only reinstated in August. Children with an ECHP were eligible to attend school, but only 6% did so – often because the support they needed in the classroom was not available.

During the period of lockdown, families of disabled children struggled to meet their needs; parents do not have the specialist skills required to teach children and many reported feel ‘burnt out’. 76% of families with disabled children who received support from Children’s Social Care (e.g. respite) saw this stop during the height of the crisis.

Children with Special Educational Needs but who do not have an ECHP were not entitled to attend school during the lockdown, and parents report that the remote learning provided by schools was not generally tailored to their children’s needs and therefore difficult to access.


The secondary impacts of Covid -19have affected the health and well being of children and young people. Children report feeling more stressed. The lockdown removed sources of structure and support in children’s lives, it reduced opportunities for physical activity, contributed to increased stress in families and exacerbated loneliness as children could not see their friends. The consequences of these factors are likely to be felt for years to come.

Women who were pregnant or gave birth during this time missed out on vital face to face contact with midwifery services and health visitors as these appointments often moved online. This means that women and families in need of additional support may been missed by professionals.


The report concludes that during the initial stages of this crisis, children’s needs were side-lined, and vulnerable children including those in Care and with disabilities actually saw their rights actively downgraded. Furthermore, those children and young people (and their families) with the worse life chances have felt the greatest burden from the virus and our response to it. Future restrictions must seek to lessen any burdens placed on vulnerable children.

Children must be at the heart of any future local or national restrictions, and a recovery package is needed to mitigate the damage caused thus far.

To download the full report, please go to:

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