Comprehensive childhood recovery package needed

The Children’s Commissioner for England has stressed that a comprehensive recovery package is needed to tackle rising tide of childhood vulnerability caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Anne Longfield has publishing a major new report examining the impact of the pandemic on children, providing a roadmap for what should be done to help children to recover from their experiences of the last six months and the ongoing crisis.

The report sets out how for many of the most vulnerable children the disruption of the last six months has been damaging and compounded existing inequalities. Even before the crisis struck, there were 2.2 million vulnerable children living in risky home situations in England, including nearly 800,000 children living with domestic abuse and 1.6 million living with parents with severe mental health conditions.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including: ensuring all families have the basic resources to provide care for their children by introducing a pre-emptive package of welfare and housing support for families who have built up rent arrears to counter a potential wave of family homelessness; greater investment in local authority early help services; and schools targeting their portion of the £1 billion catch up fund on vulnerable and disadvantaged children who have lost out the most – they should not be forced to spend it on PPE, supply teachers or adaptations to school buildings.

Anne Longfield said: “Children have fewer health risks from Covid-19 and yet they have suffered disproportionately from the nation’s efforts to contain the virus. While it has been good to see a greater understanding in parts of Whitehall and Westminster about what it means to be a vulnerable child, many of the decisions taken over the last six months have not put children first. While pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops opened, the majority of children were not able to attend school.

“Unless the government acts now, Covid-19 is in danger of becoming an inter-generational crisis, with the impact of the economic fall-out on parents determining the future prospects of their children. This would decimate the government’s ability to level-up opportunity across the country in the way the Prime Minister has repeatedly promised to do. The scale of the response to Covid-19 has shown us how our society can respond to huge challenges. After all the sacrifices children have made over the last few months, we should repay them with a comprehensive recovery package, ‘a Nightingale moment’, that puts their interests first.”

Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “It is vital that children’s needs are at the heart of future planning to ensure that they are safe, happy and have opportunities to thrive.  As the impact of the coronavirus pandemic becomes apparent, more children, young people and their families are likely to need support, including child protection plans or even coming into the care system. But for many, they will just need some extra help to get through a difficult period.

“We are calling on the government to use the forthcoming Spending Review to properly resource councils to enable investment in local safety nets and the universal and early help services, including mental health and wellbeing services, that children, young people and their families will need to support them through the short and long-term impacts of the pandemic. The government should also work with councils and schools to reduce the attainment gap, including immediate work to stabilise the early years sector and support children and young people to attend school or to continue learning from home where required.”