Published on
05 December 2021

Barnardo’s has released its findings into the ‘new normal’ for children in Scotland, based on charity staff’s direct work with young people in schools. 

Barnardo's Scotland

Barnardo’s works in over 400 schools across Scotland, with practitioners from the charity supporting young people with their wellbeing as well as providing family support. 

Barnardo’s surveyed its schools-based practitioners to better understand the challenges affecting young people in the aftermath of school closures, to inform how the charity best responds to young people’s changing needs as we transition to the next phase of the pandemic. 

A huge 94% of Barnardo’s practitioners that responded to the snapshot survey felt that children and young people have more worries now than before the pandemic, with 63% of staff identifying anxiety as the most significant wellbeing issue affecting children and young people. 

Worryingly, however, 78% of staff did not believe that children and young people have access to the appropriate supports to address their mental health needs. 

Barnardo’s ‘New Normal’ survey was carried out with staff in October 2021, looking at the period following children’s return to school in August. Forty-nine of Barnardo’s Scotland schools-based practitioners responded to the survey. 

Whilst 40% of Barnardo’s practitioners felt there had been a focus on the wellbeing of young people, rather than attainment, on the return to school this academic year, almost 80% of staff felt that children and young people were anxious about their exams and felt under pressure to catch up. 

The greatest overall concern identified for young people was their mental health and wellbeing, with 76% of staff believing this was the most worrying issue for young people at this stage of the pandemic, ahead of poverty, school and relationships.  

However, financial difficulties were also identified as a significant issue, with 83% of Barnardo’s staff stating that more families needed financial help now than pre-pandemic, with a staggering 90% stating that the changes to Universal Credit were causing distress amongst families. Two thirds identified ongoing food poverty and hunger as a concern. 

The key support themes identified by Barnardo’s frontline practitioners as being a priority for the immediate future, were unanimously for more support for mental wellbeing within schools and communities, and increased holistic support to wrap around whole families.  

Director for Barnardo’s Scotland, Martin Crewe, said: “We know that lockdowns and wider restrictions have had a significant impact on children, young people and families, with our staff reporting worsening worries, anxieties and mental health for children and young people now than pre-pandemic. 

“This is reflected in the numbers of young people referred to and waiting for CAMHS support recently hitting the highest point on record. It’s essential we develop more early help and community-based supports, which both compliment and reduce the pressure on CAMHS provision, to reach young people at the earliest point of need. 

“It is also hard for children and young people to recover if the adults caring for them are stressed and overwhelmed. Barnardo’s has long been calling for increased investment in holistic family support services that are well placed to support families who need help and this includes practical support with addressing the impact of poverty. 

The Whole Family Wellbeing Fund recently announced by the Scottish Government is a welcome step, but we need to see it achieve a step up in services available and become a long-term commitment to ensure family support is universally available.  

“As a matter of urgency, we need to ensure there is sufficient, appropriate, mental health and wellbeing support available in all schools and communities to support this generation of children and young people when they need it the most.” 

Barnardo’s ‘New Normal’ survey and report can be found here in full.  

Within the report findings, staff also recognised the positive impact that getting outdoors and connecting with nature during their interactions with children had on young people’s wellbeing, with therapeutic outdoor learning being a key wellbeing tool that Barnardo’s actively engages in with young people across Scotland. 46% of participating staff reported that children and young people had had more opportunities to access nature and other supports over this period. 


Barnardo’s practitioners in schools 

Barnardo’s school-based practitioners have been on the frontline throughout the pandemic, continuing to meet and support families through this challenging period and therefore have a high level of insight into the reality of life for children, young people and families in our communities across the country. 


Other findings from the report included: 

·         Returning to school has been positive for most pupils with over two thirds of participating staff reporting this to be the case 

·         74% of staff felt that young people were struggling to reconnect with their peers 

·         47% reported children and young people were being supported by key adults to reintegrate into school settings 

·         77% felt that children and young people were anxious about exams and the pressure to ’catch up’.