Government ministers and other senior politicians have been held to account by young people in a series of virtual conversations organised by Barnardo’s.
The UK’s leading children’s charity set up the ‘online roundtable discussions’ as part of its Big Conversation project - finding out how children and young people have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Taking part in the discussions with Barnardo’s young people were Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins, Shadow Minister for Young People Cat Smith, Shadow Minister for Education Tulip Siddiq and the chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon.
Mental health and coping with life in lockdown was a topic which came up during all the discussions. Some of the young people had been due to take exams and said not doing so has left them with a sense of anti-climax and powerlessness which they felt was also exacerbated by a lack of communication.
The MPs were also asked about issues around education, making the digital world safe for young people, support for care leavers and also inclusion, especially for BAME, LGBTQ+ and children with special needs or disability.
One care leaver currently at university talked about how she is trying to balance making ends meet while studying, with the pandemic making it a lot more difficult to work over the summer.
Young people also spoke about why it is important for children to be given a voice in decision making.
The themes for the discussions were all taken from the results of in-depth interviews with Barnardo’s service users, about how they are coping during lockdown and hope for the future.
They also appear in a video put together by some of the young people who took part in the survey.
The research found many aspects of the lockdown have been immensely challenging for young people.
These include feeling less supported, struggling with boredom, a lack of routine and a lack of social contact.
A key finding is that children and young people have found the information available about COVID-19 confusing, difficult to understand and overwhelmingly negative. It is also difficult to know which sources to trust online.
Negative news stories resulted in young people feeling scared, fearful of the future, and concerned about loved ones contracting the virus.
Young people wanted to receive information about what they can do while lockdown restrictions are in place, as opposed to what they can’t do.
Looking ahead to a post-pandemic future the young people interviewed said they want the world to be more equal, caring and understanding, with greater accountability for those in positions of power, and more attention to the environmental crisis.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said:
“Too often children’s voices have been missing from the Covid-19 debate. But thanks to the wonders of technology, children and young people from Barnardo’s services across the country have been able to share their views and experiences direct with Ministers and MPs.
“After missing out on months of school and support, children’s needs must now be top priority for decision makers. Poverty and mental health are rising, and more children at risk of harm, and as always in times of crisis, the most vulnerable and disadvantaged - including those from BAME communities - are hardest hit.
“I’m extremely grateful to all the young people who took part in these sessions, and bravely shared their insights with politicians. By speaking truth to power they are helping inform the decisions that will affect their generation’s future.”
Notes to editors
113 children and young people who are supported by Barnardo’s took part in the research.
Due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, the research was undertaken remotely. The questions were posed to young people by the Barnardo’s project workers who have supported them during lockdown. Conversations were held in the course of practitioner’s work with young people, either by telephone or video call. As they listened, project workers typed young people’s responses, verbatim, into Survey Monkey. These responses were submitted directly to the research team.
Fieldwork ran from 6 May – 1 June 2020, at which point, the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions had been in place for 6-10 weeks.
The Barnardo’s report is called Devalued (by Forces Beyond Your Control).