As we enter a new period of national lockdown with months of uncertainty ahead, we must redouble our efforts to support children and young people though this unprecedented crisis.
It is important to recognise that there are protections in place that were not available during the first national lockdown. In particular, NCB welcomes the Government’s decision to keep childcare and education settings open. There is robust evidence that it is safer for children to be in settings that than out of them, and that their educational and health outcomes will benefit as a result. We also welcome the directive that health professionals supporting children and families (such as health visitors, designated safeguarding officers and school nurses) should not be redeployed during the winter months. Both measures will help keep children visible and connected.
But there is a wider social catastrophe enveloping children and young people that public services alone cannot alleviate.
First and foremost, we must do whatever it takes to ensure that children, young people and families have enough to eat, have a roof over their head, and can stay warm this winter. Now is not the time to argue about whether Free School Meals or Universal Credit are the best way of achieving this vital mission; now is the time to ensure layers of support are in place to ensure every child has their basic needs met this winter.
Second, every child has the right to a full-time education and this cannot be dependent on the financial means of their parents. With uncertainty about the ability to keep education settings fully open for all pupils, we must urgently return to the issue of digital exclusion. Schools must be given access to the hardware they need to meet their new legal duty to provide remote education, and to prepare for any potential closure of education settings. The voluntary sector stands ready to work with businesses and Government to ensure every child and young person has a personal connected laptop.
Third, we must recognise that the threat to children and young people’s mental health is as serious a threat to long-term health as the pandemic itself. The huge scale of need was evident before COVID-19, but rising poverty, uncertainty about the future, bereavement and a host of other challenges are making things far worse. More of the same is not an option. We need a fundamental re-think of what support this generation of children and young people need, and we must start by asking them what that is. Only by working in partnership with children and young people can we begin to repair the damage and help them see a brighter future ahead.