Report warns of coronavirus impact on vulnerable children

Councils, early support services and schools say they have serious concerns about the impact the coronavirus crisis has had on vulnerable children and families, and the knock-on effect for early help services.

The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) and Action for Children research has found that school closures, social distancing and lockdown measures have seriously affected the ability of services to support children and families at the time when they needed it most.

Whilst there was an overall sense of professionals and communities pulling together in an extraordinary effort to protect vulnerable children and support families during the crisis, they warn that the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable children and families is likely to be profound.

The situation will be made more challenging by the fact it’s very difficult to predict exactly what the needs of families will be post-lockdown. The lack of face-to-face contact in recent months means services may well have been less effective; despite the best efforts of councils and schools to maintain contact where possible and to innovate.  

The research makes clear that there will be increased demand from families who don’t meet the criteria for support from statutory services, but who are wrestling with new and pressing needs created by the strains of the lockdown, or the effects of previous support having been withdrawn. Those interviewed for the research recognised that it has become more difficult to ascertain which children have become more vulnerable. The subtler signs of abuse, neglect or domestic violence, for example, are simply much harder to spot without home visits or other face-to-face contact.  

Jo Casebourne, chief executive at EIF, said: “This work is important to our understanding of the pressures public services face, and how the country can navigate this recovery phase. The lockdown has had a negative impact on children and families, especially those that were struggling before the coronavirus hit. We know there will be lots of calls for additional funding, including – rightly – for children’s social care and other acute services. But early intervention has a crucial role to play in providing support to a wider group of families and children wrestling with a wide range of problems in the wake of the lockdown.”

Eleanor Briggs, head of Policy and Research at Action for Children, said: “The coronavirus crisis has exploded into the lives of vulnerable families after a decade of decline in central government funding for early help services that are designed to give all children the best start in life. Our findings echo widespread fears across the children’s sector that our already hollowed-out services won’t be able to cope with further demand created by the pandemic. The right thing to do for children and young people is for the government to invest in early help services now, ensuring families get help before they reach crisis point.”

Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, commented: “This report provides yet more worrying evidence that the coronavirus crisis is having a devastating impact on the most vulnerable children in our society. Early intervention is vital to ensure children get the support they need, yet these services in particular have been devastated by a decade of cuts. Staff in child protection, mental health and other children’s social care services are working tirelessly and inovatively to provide support in this pandemic, but there are real concerns about their ability to cope with the impact of Covid-19. We are urging the government to invest properly in children’s services so that the next generation are not scarred by often traumatic experiences of this crisis.”