This generation of children will need support to help them cope with the lasting effects of bereavement and loss long after the crisis is over, to avoid long term impact to their mental health and wellbeing.
This is the message from Barnardo’s on the same day the charity broadcasts its latest TV advert in its Believe in Me campaign, highlighting the importance of support services for children and young people who have experienced bereavement, loss or grief.
The leading national children’s charity says this is the situation for thousands of children facing a new reality after lockdown. In many cases, they have lost a loved one, lost the chance of opportunities they were about to take up or lost their normal support systems.
In the ad, to be aired from 24 September 2020, a computer generated crow symbolises the feelings of loss and grief a young Black boy experiences from losing his Mum, before receiving support from a Barnardo's counsellor.
Before Covid-19, official stats showed 1 in 29 5-16 year olds had been bereaved of a parent or sibling - that's at least one child in every average class.
Data is not yet available to show how much this number has increased due to Covid-19. But as of 1 September, 41,504 people had died within 28 days of being tested positive for COVID-19 - so we know many more children and young people will be experiencing bereavement.
Some communities will be especially impacted by grief and bereavement, especially those at higher risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from the virus, such as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities or those living in areas of high deprivation.
Data from Kooth, the online mental health counselling provider, shows the emotional toll the pandemic has had on BAME children. It has seen a 26.6% increase in BAME children contacting them with suicidal thoughts, compared to 18.1% for white children as a result of Covid-19.
And a survey of Barnardo’s frontline staff found approximately four in five(81%) are supporting someone reporting an increase in mental health issues due to the Covid-19 crisis.
There is support out there for children who are struggling with the return to school, including the Government-funded See, Hear, Respond programme, which is led by Barnardo’s and delivered in partnership with 80 charities and organisations. However, this is only funded until the end of November.
The Government has announced several initiatives to support children and young people's mental health and wellbeing, including a package of mental health support through local authorities for schools to run for the next six months.
But Barnardo’s says that much more needs to be done.
Children’s grief will not just stop when these programmes stop and says there must be a strategy for longer term support, because children will need differing levels of support at different times.
This must not just be about providing counselling sessions for children, but also looking at how the systems in place to help young people cope with their mental health and wellbeing can be improved.
Ensuring schools are places of safety, offer a nurturing learning environment, and are linked to specialist services that can support children and young people through this difficult time will be critical.
And the UK’s leading children’s charity is calling on the Government to go much further than this in the longer term.
It wants the Government to use the pandemic as a catalyst to bring about a sea change in the education system - to ensure that schools prioritise child welfare and wellbeing, so that they are on a par with academic achievement.
There must also be additional long-term investment in early intervention children’s services to help not only children who are experiencing issues arising from the pandemic now, but also those who will need help in the future.
The pandemic has shut down valuable sources of income for the charity so it is also asking people to donate to ensure it can give the support that is needed.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Javed Khan said:
“Our new TV advert features a young boy suffering from grief after the death of his mother.
“Sadly, these raw emotions will be familiar to thousands of children and families across the UK, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Too many children and young people have lost family members and experienced loss in their wider communities - especially those from BAME communities.[i] Other have lost support systems, contact with friends and families, and missed out on opportunities, creating feelings of isolation and anxiety for the future.
“At Barnardo’s we believe that with the right support all children can recover from trauma and work towards a positive future. We provide this support across the country - but we can’t do it alone. Now more than ever we rely on the support of our friends and partners, and the generosity of the public, to continue our vital work.”