Published on
07 December 2020

I recently spoke to Amanda Seyderhelm, a play therapist and author, about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Amanda’s podcast explores the impact of bereavement, loss and change on children - an issue so relevant today in the context of COVID-19.

 It has been a time of immense loss and change including, for some, the loss of loved ones. This is particularly acute in Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Fear of COVID-19 is a significant factor in parents deciding to homeschool their children. We know that without urgent support for children, young people and families, this pandemic could have a significant impact on long-term mental health and wellbeing outcomes. 

At Barnardo’s, we are already seeing the impact of the pandemic on the children, young people and families we support. 81%* of our frontline workers tell us that they are working with children or young people with increasing mental health issues due to COVID-19. And relationships are key - the biggest concern of our practitioners about the impact of COVID-19 is the loss of  children and young people’s social contacts. Young people we worked with on our recent In Our Own Words report agreed: 

The most prevalent trend [of research carried out by young people in Bristol] was that of struggling to cope with the reduction in social contact. 63% of the answers stated this and shows that no amount of phone calls or video chats can replace truly connecting and being with another person. The most powerful quote in this section was simply ‘I miss my friends’.

Young People from Bristol on their findings for the In Our Own Words report

We are also seeing more children, young people and families falling into poverty, living on benefits or accessing food banks. 55% of our frontline workers have seen an increase in poverty in the families they support since the first lockdown was announced, compared to 17% saying it had stayed the same, and just 1% saying it had decreased. We are also hearing about more children, young people and families finding themselves in precarious work or housing conditions. Poverty issues also came up in research young people carried out for out recent report: 

[Young People] commented on the delay they experienced in receiving their vouchers for free school meals. One young person had to wait three weeks before receiving their vouchers that they could then use towards their food shopping.

Young People from Plymouth on their findings for the In Our Own Words report

The uncertainty around COVID-19 and its knock-on effects for society and the economy is resulting in understandable anxiety and fear. Anxiety is the most common issue seen by those  frontline workers who tell us they were seeing increases in mental health issues in the children they work with. In our services, we are hearing about children and young people’s anxieties about their futures, their education, as well as their fears for vulnerable family members. 

We believe that the COVID-19 must act as a catalyst for change in the mental health and wellbeing system around children and young people. Even before this pandemic it wasn’t working well for many children and young people who were ‘falling through the cracks’ of the system. But now it is more important than ever that we make the changes necessary to shift the focus  to prevention and early intervention - and to ensure that all children and young people can receive the support they need when they need it. 

Young people worked with us to produce our recent report In Our Own Words, which explores the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. They have been supporting us to raise these issues with key decision makers in order to advocate for change, including at our recent webinar with Nadine Dorries, Minister for Mental Health, and in our Virtual Conversations with MPs. Children and young people know best what their lives are like and we believe passionately that they must be involved in decision making that affects their lives. 

From our work with young people, we know that they want to see a mental health system that prioritises early intervention, is based on need so that young people do not ‘fall through the cracks’, and gives children and young people genuine choice. To achieve this, we need a transformation in mental health and wellbeing services and support - this needs solid partnership working at a local and national level so that the whole system around the child or young person works to promote their wellbeing. 

We all know that life as we knew it isn’t going to be the same. I think it would be nice for the world to still be part of a community – people caring for each other and offering each other help like we have done during lockdown, people checking up on each other – to see that again because we had all stopped doing it before.

Young Person

You can hear more from Amanda’s podcast on Spotify.

Useful links

In Our Own Words

Virtual Conversations with MPs

*Data cited is from our Quarterly Practitioners Survey (Wave 5). The fieldwork for the survey was undertaken from 25th June to 15th July and was open to all practitioners working for Barnardo’s. The results are based on 489 responses from our practitioners.