Children will face many hidden negative effects from the new coronavirus, but it’s not too late to avert them, says Paul Ramchandani
8 April 2020
THE direct impact of covid-19 on children seems to be less severe than on adults, but indirect and hidden consequences will have a lasting effect. The choices we make now can stave off some of the worst of these.
Across much of the world, schools are closed and families are largely restricted to their homes. The associated uncertainty and anxiety is a real concern, with disruptions to children’s education as well as to their time with friends, for exploration and play.
These disruptions won’t be fairly shared out. Children from more prosperous homes will have more space, greater access to toys and learning opportunities, greater support from their schools and better access to resources on the internet. We must ensure that those who have the least in society don’t end up being more adversely affected.
There are, and will continue to be, clear effects of the coronavirus on children’s education, social life and physical and mental health. For children in key development stages, such as the very young and those in adolescence, disruption of many months will have a larger impact on social development.
These effects will be pernicious and sustained. Though they are hidden from view, we can act now to tackle them. There are many examples, but here are three.
First, the very youngest children (including those yet to be born) are potentially the most vulnerable to family stress and anxiety. Effects on them may not be immediately apparent, but there is a large body of research showing that depression and anxiety in either parent is linked to a greater risk of mental health problems in children. This isn’t set in stone, so intervention and support now, such as psychological therapies for parents, would be transformative for many families.
Second, confinement to home seems to lead to a rise in domestic violence. Children experiencing or witnessing violence in the home are at a much higher risk of psychological difficulties in their lives. Many local authority and school staff are doing an amazing job at supporting vulnerable children and families during the pandemic, but as schools close and home visits by health and social care staff are reduced, more children in this situation will go unheard and unnoticed.
Third, and probably the largest in terms of children’s future health and opportunities, is the impact of an economic downturn. In the UK over the past decade, the burden of economic pain was felt widely, with a stalling of life expectancy. Policies enacted to tackle the recession had the greatest impact on families from the poorest communities, with 30 per cent of children living in poverty and a large and sustained increase in the number of families using food banks. The next economic shock may be larger, but choices can be made about how the challenge is shared. Children shouldn’t bear the brunt this time.
The coronavirus crisis is already affecting the lives of children, but perhaps more concerning are these hidden ways in which they will be affected in the months and years ahead. We can mitigate these effects if we make the right choices.
A crisis is a time of great uncertainty and anxiety, but is also a time when new options become possible. Now is the time to plan for the future we want.
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