The Commission for Children and Young People will tomorrow release findings on the impact of COVID following consultations with more than 600 children and young people, and with more than 170 workers from 70 organisations supporting them.
The new findings detail a massive impact on the lives of children and young people in Victoria across safety, mental health and education, revealing a picture of growing uncertainty and isolation, combined with diminished visibility.
Commissioner for Children and Young People, Liana Buchanan, said today it was vital that the findings, drawn directly from listening to a large and diverse group of children and young people, inform the COVID response to protect their wellbeing and meet their needs.
She said some of what the Commission heard ran counter to a common media narrative that too often stereotypes children and young people.
‘While media coverage often paints children and young people as heedless of COVID risk, we found they are very concerned not only for their own health, but for the health of loved ones, including older people such as their grandparents.
‘At the same time, many spoke to us about the lack of accessible COVID information framed specifically for them. Children and young people want to understand the pandemic, the risks it presents, and what they should do about it,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.
Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Justin Mohamed, highlighted the pervasive uncertainty experienced by children and young people during the pandemic.
‘In these uncharted times, it’s clear when we speak to children and young people that they are deeply concerned across so many areas, and the pandemic is heightening those concerns. Many are acutely aware of broader issues facing their community, friends and family, with the recent Black Lives Matter movement, people losing their jobs, being isolated from family and not being able to attend important family and community gatherings.
‘We have clearly heard that COVID–19 hasn’t just impacted the day-to-day lives of children and young people, but is having a wider and deeper impact on our next generation,’ Commissioner Mohamed said.
Broader safety concerns included increasing conflict, tension and violence within families. Young people reported that their usual strategies for seeking safety, such as leaving the house, seeking relief at school, or staying with friends and extended family, have been cut off.
Workers in organisations supporting children and young people are concerned there are ‘fewer eyes on kids’, with some perceiving the risks faced by vulnerable children and young people during lockdown as outweighing COVID.
‘This is a vital perspective that we cannot afford to miss. Although many services have adapted their approach to working with children and young people, there is no question that at a time of heightened risk in families, vulnerable children and young people are less visible and have less access to support. We must balance the need to tackle the virus while also addressing the risk of violence, abuse and neglect at home,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.
Another strong theme from the consultations related to mental health. While some are managing well, most children and young people consulted described a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing. Loneliness, isolation, disruption of routines and coping mechanisms are being coupled with the stress of remote learning, precarious employment, and unstable housing. Children and young people are also distressed by news and social media, with many having fears for their future.
Many children and young people were frank about the lockdown exacerbating existing mental health issues. Others spoke of experiencing mental ill health for the first time, and a disturbing number spoke about concerns of suicide and self-harm.
‘In the midst of this clear distress, most children and young people told us they prefer face-to-face support services, with phone and online services creating barriers for some needing help with their mental health for the first time,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.
Remote learning also posed challenges for children and young people, with its impact often dependent on the degree of support children and young people already received.
‘Students with good supports at home often described a positive experience of remote learning. Some children and young people praised their teachers’ commitment and appreciated the support and communication. But we heard from many who feel support is limited and for students already doing it tough, remote education simply doesn’t work.
‘We heard this from children in large families, in families that could not afford or did not know how to use technology, families where parents were working or could not read or had other issues preventing them from helping their children. We also heard particular concerns about the impact on students with disability or special learning needs.
‘For vulnerable children already at risk of disengagement, the impact on their education could be devastating and permanent. We will need a major effort and investment to address education gaps widened by the pandemic,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.
‘It is vital these concerns directly shape the responses on the ground. This consultation has shown us just how inter-connected are the factors that support the wellbeing and safety of children and young people, yet in many ways the pandemic is a time of profound disconnection,’ Commissioner Mohamed concluded.
The consultation snapshots of safety, mental health and education are now available on the Commission’s website. They will be shared with the Victorian Government and agencies working with children, young people and their families to inform the COVID response to children and young people.
The Commission is continuing its engagement with children and young people with an ongoing series of consultations.
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