Vital research by the Wales Violence Prevention Unit highlights the need for early intervention, accessible information and continued sustainable funding for services supporting children and young people as Wales re-opens.
As the nation rolls out its pandemic recovery plan, most of us are enjoying some sense of normality return. However, for children and young people, the restrictions needed to control COVID-19 could leave a lasting and potentially devastating impact on their mental and physical health.
The research, delivered by the Wales Violence Prevention Unit with funding from Public Health Wales, highlights how COVID-19 has resulted in many challenges for children and young people, including changes to routine, disruption to education and a reduction in access to support services and social activities. Evidence indicates that these challenges, together with other factors such as home life and existing wellbeing concerns, will likely have increased the risk of exposure to violence and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), particularly among the most vulnerable children and young people.
“The last year has been extremely tough for many people, and it is clear that the COVID-19 restrictions will likely have had a detrimental impact on children and young people.
“This report indicates that many will have been at an increased risk of experiencing violence and adverse childhood experiences, including domestic abuse, physical abuse, self-harm, sexual abuse and exploitation, and youth violence. Similarly, those who were subject to adversities before the pandemic, will likely have been experiencing them at an increased intensity during the restrictions.
“Everyone has a right to safety, and there is tremendous work taking place to ensure vulnerable children and young people are protected from the people and experiences that can cause them harm. As Wales continues its recovery, we will continue to work together with our partners to ensure no child or young person is left behind.”Jonathan Drake, Director, Wales Violence Prevention Unit
The report includes local, national and international data which indicates risk factors for violence, such as deprivation, low engagement with education and less responsive parenting, have been heightened for children and young people during the pandemic. For example, despite the NSPCC helpline recording a decrease in contacts about sexual abuse overall, the percentage of calls concerning sexual abuse in the child’s own home increased during the lockdown period, when compared to previous years. Likewise, throughout the restrictions, domestic abuse helplines have seen increases in contacts from survivors who have children, and an increase in contacts from young people who are experiencing domestic abuse in their relationship.
The report outlines key considerations for those working with children and young people. These include focusing on early intervention to help re-build the trusted relationships that have been absent during the pandemic and improving the way we communicate with children and young people to help them understand and alleviate anxiety, fear and frustration around the virus. The report also highlights the importance of sustaining current funding so that vital services have the resources necessary to support vulnerable children and young people during the COVID-19 recovery, and the need for contingency plans for services that would enable a swift response to any future pandemics without the re-deployment of key staff away from crucial safeguarding and support services.