Covid-19's hidden crisis

(Photo: Unsplash/Amir Hosseini)

When we think about the restrictions that Covid-19 has placed on our nation, we can easily focus on the physical constraints we feel. But what about the impact on emotional wellbeing?

The pandemic has caused immense emotional challenges; from loneliness, to anxiety, to frustration and loss. New pressures, ever-changing circumstances and endless uncertainty is tough to cope with as an adult, but even more so as a child.

With a whopping 87% of children saying that they have felt lonely or isolated during lockdown, and with children's emotional wellbeing declining for the decade before the pandemic, it is clear there are so many young people who need support.

TLG has over 20 years' experience of partnering with local churches to support children and families through many challenges, including supporting their emotional wellbeing. It's been strikingly evident to us that the pandemic has had a significant impact on so many children and that urgent action must be taken to mitigate the long-term effects on emotional wellbeing.

That is why we have launched a new briefing paper, highlighting how serious the emotional wellbeing crisis is and how it could affect children's education and futures if urgent action is not taken. We have brought forward a number of recommendations that we know will make a huge difference in preventing the impact of Covid-19 being felt for years to come.

Our briefing paper is entitled 'The Hidden Crisis: the impact of COVID-19 on children's emotional health, the link to exclusions and how a trauma-responsive approach can help reduce the long-term effects'. It details the devasting link between poor emotional wellbeing and rising school exclusions – and the life-long consequences children can face as a result.

At the heart of our recommendations is the call for a trauma-responsive approach that prioritises children's wellbeing so that it is at the centre of the response to the current crisis.

At TLG we constantly see the benefits of using trauma-responsive approaches to help children overcome challenges. This approach shows that what has often been labelled 'bad' or 'disruptive' behaviour is so often a form of communication and a cry for help. A trauma-responsive approach provides relational, sensitive responses to help children form healthy regulation and coping strategies. Early therapeutic intervention is key to preventing children from reaching crisis point.

There needs to be an urgent rethink about both the way behaviour in our schools is viewed and the way exclusions are used. 'Persistent disruptive behaviour' is currently the most common cause of exclusion, yet in our experience at TLG those incidents are so often a sign of just how much a child is struggling. It's a critical warning that, instead of being isolated and uprooted, as typically happens when a child is excluded from school, children struggling in their education need comprehensive and holistic support which enables them to identify better choices when faced with similar situations in the future.

As outlined in the paper, incorporating trauma-responsive approaches into teacher-training and giving every school access to a trauma-specialist, will help reduce school exclusions, relieve pressure on social services and have a lasting impact on the lives of many children.

TLG has countless stories of children's lives being transformed after receiving support, including B. Before lockdown, B had been excluded from school, would not focus in class and would regularly be at odds with his teachers and his peers. During lockdown, B engaged with remote coaching – with his coach using therapeutic activities to encourage B to open up about his emotions and struggles. B started talking freely to his coach who was able to help support him and now he has a more positive outlook and is focused on his schoolwork. Upon returning to school in September, B received top marks for his engagement with online learning during lockdown and the school described him as a 'completely different child', putting it down to the consistent support and trust established between B and his TLG Early Intervention coach, as well as the coach's ability to be creative with how she is offering support.

This story perfectly encapsulates the transformation that a therapeutic approach can bring. Such approaches are only made possible by intervention from trained adults, whether it be teachers, volunteers or others.

Our aim is that 'The Hidden Crisis' will help spur change to prioritise emotional health alongside academic achievement. Action can, and must, be taken to alleviate the issues that COVID-19 has caused. Our children deserve such a commitment.

Click here to download TLG's briefing paper, 'The Hidden Crisis', and learn more about the effects of trauma and emotional wellbeing, and why a new approach is so urgently needed. You can also join in our social media with the hashtag #TheHiddenCrisis, or by sending the paper to your local Member of Parliament and asking them to prioritise children's emotional wellbeing.

Tim Morfin is CEO of TLG, a charity working in partnership with local churches to support struggling children and young people through Education Centres – a form of Alternative Provision for children to continue their education, Early Intervention programmes pairing struggling children with trained volunteer coaches from local churches, and the 'Box of Hope', which provides essential provisions to families along with resources for children, offering vital touchpoints between families and the community. TLG's new programmes Emotional First Aid and The Emotional Rollercoaster offer free expert training to volunteers, churches and schools. Find out more here.