PR - Building a country that works for all children post Covid-19

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) today, Tuesday 14 July, publishes a new discussion paper on the impacts of Covid-19 on children and their families, in order to put their lived experiences front and centre in national recovery planning whilst also articulating what is needed to restore and reset the support services they rely on.

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. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list but the beginning of an ongoing conversation about how to build a country that works for all children post-Covid-19.

The impact of the pandemic on children’s physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing cannot be underestimated. 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. Nobody knows how long social distancing measures will be in place or if there will be a second wave of the virus but worrying signs are emerging about the scale of new and escalating need resulting from the pandemic.

Covid-19 has increased cost pressures on councils who have a legal duty to set a balanced budget. 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, we also need to consider 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. 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 to support and recalibrate children’s services, including a review of responses to the first phase of the pandemic to inform what comes next. The Department for Education should articulate the impact of Covid-19 on childhood across government and lead the charge for securing sufficient resources for children’s services in the forthcoming spending review. In terms of long term changes needed to improve children’s lives, ADCS calls on 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. ADCS members stand ready to work with government, and others, to achieve this.

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.

She went on to say: “Every child and young person has been affected by Covid-19, but their experiences will vary and will not be evenly spread. Some families will have benefited from this time together, but we are also seeing families we haven’t worked with before becoming vulnerable for the first time because of jobs losses but also domestic abuse and neglect, as well as those who were already known to children’s services presenting with additional challenges that we will need to meet. The entire children’s workforce has been incredible during this period, social workers and staff in residential children’s homes have embraced new ways of working to support children and families and colleagues in schools and early years settings have worked hard to keep children learning during lockdown. But the peak of activity in children’s services is only just beginning – this is when children and families will need us the most. We are clear that harms to children have not simply gone away but will become visible as restrictions ease and children are seen by schools and other settings that are likely to raise safeguarding concerns.

Jenny Coles concluded: “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.”

ENDS



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