Suicidal thoughts, relentless abuse and a mental health crisis: The tragic legacy of the lockdowns on children living in poverty, revealed in report today

27% of charities surveyed said that children they were supporting have expressed suicidal thoughts

41% of charities noted that children experienced abuse at home as a result of lockdown 

1 in 3 children living in poverty in London are experiencing post-lockdown mental health issues (twice the national average)

Post-Lockdown: Children in Crisis

Fourteen months after the first UK lockdown was announced, The Childhood Trust has launched a new, 19-page report entitled Post-Lockdown: Children in Crisis, detailing the effects that long-term social distancing measures have had on the mental and physical health of children living in poverty.

The Childhood Trust engaged 75 different London charities and community organisations supporting approximately 85,890 children (approximately 10% of children in poverty in London) to identify the consequences associated with living under lockdown measures and the severity to which they have affected vulnerable children and young people in the capital.

PHYSICAL ABUSE & WELLBEING

“There was no escape from the abuse we suffered. It was so bad that my daughter told me she hated her life and wished she was dead.” – Sonya, mother to 8-year-old girl

41% of the charities surveyed noted that their beneficiaries were experiencing greater abuse in home settings as a result of the lockdown measures. However, the more detailed feedback indicated that it’s been difficult to track the scale of the abuse because many “have not been able to maintain contact with us over this period”, due to a lack of technology and face-to-face interaction. Social distancing measures have fully blocked channels of support for children living in dysfunctional, unstable, or abusive homes. This issue is fortified by a lack of digital access in low-income families, which several of the charities surveyed identified as a pressing issue.

80% of charities also reported that social distancing and lockdown measures have made it challenging for children to exercise and maintain their physical health. Three quarters (75%) of charities reported that their beneficiaries are still experiencing food insecurity, even though children have returned to school and can access more substantial meals. This is also juxtaposed with 37.5% of beneficiaries of the charities also reporting eating disorders as another result of the lockdown effect.

MENTAL HEALTH & SUICIDE CONCERNS

“(In lockdown) I used to go to my room, hide under the covers and cry, and cry, and cry.” – Sadie, 11

The effects of lockdown on the nation’s mental health have been well publicised, however the true impact this has had on disadvantaged children is now starting to come to light. An alarming 27% of the charities said that the children they were supporting have expressed suicidal thoughts. 82% of charities surveyed reported that their beneficiaries were experiencing serious mental health issues as a direct result of lockdown measures. Incidents. of mental health issues were two times higher in a sample of disadvantaged children in London (33%) compared to children across England (16%). This equates to a staggering 1 in 3 children living in poverty in London who are experiencing mental health issues due to lockdown. Half (50%) of girls aged 15-18 in London have been suffering clinical anxiety and depression, in comparison to teenage girls across England (27%). 

HOME LEARNING AND ATTAINMENT GAP

“I was looking forward to going back to school but when I got there, I wanted to come home again because the teacher didn’t make any sense. I just couldn’t understand what he was saying. I’d forgotten everything. Now I don’t want to go to school anymore. I feel really anxious.” – Sammy, 9

Learning outcomes in the pandemic have been greatly strained by school closures, which have worsened the attainment gap, further dividing youth along class lines. One key driver of the worsening gap between UK students is a lack of access to technology resources and additional academic support. In the most deprived state schools, 15% of teachers reported that over a third of their students do not have the electronic devices necessary for learning, compared to 2% of teachers in the most well-off schools.  Additionally, platforms for online classing and chats were more likely to be offered to the richest third of students than to the poorest third. 60% of private schools and 37% of schools in affluent areas had a digital platform, compared to 23% of the most deprived schools. After the first national lockdown in July 2020, the learning gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers in July 2020 was already 46% bigger than it was a year earlier with children from the poorest areas ten times more likely to have lost 6 months of learning that their better off peers.

Laurence Guinness, CEO of The Childhood Trust said, “Evidence from our network of over 200 funded charities highlights that the impact of the lockdowns disproportionately experienced by children whose lives are already challenged by poverty and its attendant hardships, particularly in London. For many of these children, the lockdowns have exacerbated chronic anxiety, stress, inadequate diets, domestic violence, loss of peer support and rapid mental health deterioration.”

Guinness continued, “While the nation worries about whether or not they will make it abroad this Summer, children living in poverty are worrying about school and having suicidal thoughts. Many are struggling to just get through the day. The Childhood’s Trust Champions for Children campaign will give children who are most in need intensive support to recover over the holidays helping to bring some happiness through play and other supervised activities. This has never been more needed – children living in poverty are right now, in crisis.”

Key stats from the study:

  • Incidence of mental health issues were two times higher in a sample of disadvantaged
  • children in London (33%) compared to children across England (16%). This equates to 1 in 3 children living in poverty in London (approximately 266,700 children).
  • 82% of charity respondents reported that their beneficiaries were experiencing serious mental health issues as a direct result of lockdown measures.
  • Heightened anxiety (88%) and depression (79%) were the most common mental health
  • symptoms experienced by disadvantaged children and young people
  • Incidence of clinical anxiety and depression were 23% higher in a random sample of
  • disadvantaged girls in London aged 15-18 (50%) compared to teenage girls across England (27.2%)
  • The average total anxiety and depression score for boys aged 12-14 evaluated was
  • approximately 30% higher than the mean score for unreferred boys in that age group.
  • Charities (41%) supporting approximately 35,215 disadvantaged children in London
  • reported that their beneficiaries experienced greater abuse in home settings during lockdowns
  • 77% of charity respondents indicated that a lack of social interaction and in-person
  • play time are still compromising their beneficiaries’ mental health post-lockdown.
  • 80% of charity respondents reported that social distancing and lockdown measures
  • have made it challenging for children to exercise and maintain their physical health.
  • 75% of charity respondents reported that their beneficiaries are still experiencing food insecurity, even though children have returned to school and can access more substantial meals.

CHAMPIONS FOR CHILDREN CAMPAIGN

The Childhood Trust is launching its £4m Champions for Children campaign on June 8th 2021, and will fund a record breaking, 111 children’s charities across London to engage over 150,000 children. This programme will provide opportunities for children to receive intensive support over the long summer holiday and beyond, helping to restore well-being through play and supervised activities. This will ultimately help to ensure that thousands of children can return to school free from the burden of anxiety and depression and have the best chance of successfully resuming their education.

Donors can support disadvantaged children via the campaign here: https://championsforchildren.childhoodtrust.org.uk/kt5 

About the survey

75 London children’s charities funded by The Childhood Trust, responded to the survey.

The Childhood Trust administered a survey across 75 charities, children’s programmes, and community organisations collectively supporting approximately 85,890 disadvantaged children and young people in all 32 London boroughs. The object of the research was to better understand the links between social distancing measures, lockdown, and the health and wellbeing of children in poverty. In tandem with this, The Childhood Trust used the Revised Children’s Anxiety and Depression Scale( RCADS-P), an anxiety and depression assessment tool used by healthcare providers globally, to evaluate the current mental health (on an individual level) of a sample of 68 disadvantaged children and young people supported by these organisations. The sample was selected randomly; parents and carers of children supported by the surveyed organisations were asked to complete the survey. All complete survey submissions were evaluated. While the data collected from the charities more widely represents the experiences of disadvantaged children and young people living in London, the RCADS-P offers a localised snapshot of the mental health of a group of children from exceptionally deprived backgrounds.

About the Childhood Trust

The Childhood Trust is London’s child poverty charity, funding the delivery of projects via grassroots charities that support approximately 200,000 vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people annually throughout London. The Trust achieves this through their fundraising campaigns, corporate volunteering programmes and advocacy on the issue of child poverty. By bringing companies, philanthropists and other donors together they ensure that resources are directed to exactly where they are needed. Without these projects, life for many thousands of children trapped in poverty in London would be dramatically worse.

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