Experiences of children must shape recovery planning

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services has published a new paper on the impacts of coronavirus on children and their families.

The paper attempts to capture both the challenges as well as the opportunities of the pandemic, and sets out the association’s early thinking on the strategic risks that need addressing in order to ensure children are safe, cared for and thrive in their education and beyond.

ADCS says that the impact of the pandemic on children’s physical, mental and emotional health and well-being cannot be underestimated, especially considering that children and young people have faced months of disruption to their lives and sacrificed months of their education for the health and safety of us all.

The pandemic has heightened the challenges many children and families are facing, from poverty and poor quality housing to access to technology, safe places to play and food and laid bare stark inequalities in our society that cannot be ignored.

Furthermore, coronavirus has increased cost pressures on councils who have a legal duty to set a balanced budget. ADCS says that three injections of emergency funding have helped but a longer-term financial settlement is needed, one which enables us to invest meaningfully in early support for families. Beyond funding, consideration over the robustness of the children’s system as a whole and its capacity to meet the needs of children and families, now and in the future, is necessary.

In planning for the re-set and recalibration, there are myriad strategic, practical and policy considerations requiring careful co-ordination. It is vital that local and national partners work together for the benefit of children and young people and there is cross government accountability for how policies affect children’s outcomes.

The paper includes a series of immediate asks of the government, including: a review of responses to the first phase of the pandemic to inform what comes next; and for the government to implement the principle recommendation in Sir Michael Marmot’s 2020 review of health inequalities in England, as well as his specific recommendations to address the inequalities children face, including increasing spending on the early years and ensuring the allocation of funding is proportionately higher for more deprived areas, reducing levels of child poverty and putting equity at the heart of national decisions about education policy and funding.

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said: “Although Covid-19 appears to pose a lower risk of infection to children and young people, we are concerned about the secondary impacts of the virus on them. Surveys undertaken in lockdown highlight increased fear, anxiety and loneliness amongst children and young people and many children have been unable to access support services they rely on. Children are in danger of being the long term victims of the disease, like they have been with austerity. This is why ADCS is calling on government to put children and their outcomes at the core of national recovery planning.

“To achieve a country that works for all children in a post-Covid-19 world, long term strategies to close the gap in terms of education, health and poverty are urgently needed. Just before the pandemic transformed our way of life and laid bare the inequalities in this country, Sir Michael Marmot published a review of the health of the nation which found a deterioration usually only evident following a ‘catastrophic’ economic or political shock, such as the breakup of the Soviet Union. The report suggests austerity is driving rising levels of child poverty and stalling life expectancies outside of London. The key recommendation was the initiation of an ambitious health inequalities strategy, led by the Prime Minister and a Cabinet-level cross-departmental committee. There can be no delay in levelling up the inequalities faced, children’s life chances and all of our futures depend on it.”