I listened with interest to the government daily briefing on Tuesday, May 5. Rumours and interest have been building for days on whether the majority of children might soon return to school. Dominic Raab understands the situation. He feels sorry, he told us, for parents, for teachers and he realises the impact of the closures on the economy. I waited. He moved on. No mention of children and the impact on them.
I’ve been astonished at the lack of attention on children during the response to coronavirus (covid-19). The early days of the pandemic were chaotic and fast-moving. Messaging, rightly so, focussed on getting the country to stay home and stay safe.
Then, as schools closed, a monumental effort was made by teachers, councils, unions and others to ensure that our poorest children were still receiving their free school meals. Some of our most vulnerable children are of course still able to go to school, although uptake has been low across the UK.
Children’s social care teams have been 100 per cent focused on continuing to safeguard children at risk of harm and child protection.
Latterly, the focus has been on ensuring that children can access the technology they need to access school work, communicate with friends and peers digitally and access other entertainment and resources.
This is great, and exactly what is needed from a practical perspective, but we have been woefully poor at communicating directly to young people.
Our adolescents have been staying in. This isn’t easy for all manner of reasons, but the fact that the overwhelming majority of young people are adhering to lockdown is something to acknowledge and celebrate. The temptations to break lockdown are clear – not least friends and good weather – but calls to stay home have been heeded.
And our youngest children have arguably had their lives turned upside down. Children thrive on routine, on socialising and, in most cases, on the school environment. One day in March this suddenly stopped, and no one can say when life will return to normal. This impacts hugely on little ones. It’s not just school; sports and activities can be key to release energy, aggression and building up confidence and relationships. All on hold indefinitely.
I haven’t heard a single word of thanks, or well done, or congratulations on your resilience from national government. Dominic Raab had the perfect opportunity yesterday, but chose to talk about the economy and the ‘grown-ups’ instead. By itself, this isn’t good enough. Without a clear and explicit consideration of the needs of children, any lockdown recovery plan will fail.
Children’s rights were slowly but surely moving to a place of mainstream acceptance and progress before covid-19; to lose that momentum now and sweep children aside would be a stunningly short-sighted failure of public policy that we cannot allow.
Helen Godwin is a Labour councillor for Southmead and the council’s cabinet member for women, children, and families.