The early years sector should be given the same level of catch-up support as the schools sector, the House of Lords Covid-19 Committee has said. Following the committee’s two-month inquiry into the long-term impact of the pandemic on parents and families, it said that it had heard ‘concerning evidence’ about the impact of over a year of lockdowns and social distancing on pre-school children.
This ranged from children’s opportunities to learn to crawl and walk being hampered by lack of space in inappropriate housing, to their social and emotional skills being underdeveloped as a result of lack of contact with other children and adults.
Despite this, members of the committee said that there has been ‘no equivalent’ of the extra funding that has been made available to enable school-aged children to ‘catch up’ on lost learning.
The letter, from committee chair Baroness Martha Lane-Fox of Soho to children and families minister Vicky Ford, said,
‘Young children’s physical, emotional and social development will almost inevitably have suffered from the lack of contact they have had with the outside world for a significant proportion of their lives; without action to address this, this could have a whole range of consequences for them and for society as a whole in the years ahead.
The Government should make the same commitment to helping the youngest children recover from the pandemic as they have for school-aged children. This should include providing the significant additional resource that early years providers will require to respond to the additional and more complex needs of those in their care.’
A recent survey by the Early Years Alliance found that 59 per cent of providers reported a decrease in the number of children ‘meeting the expected level of early attainment in physical development, communication and language development, and personal, social and emotional development’.
The committee is also calling on the Government to take steps to ‘mitigate’ the potential long-term impact of the pandemic on babies and their parents.
Expectant parents have missed out on ante-natal classes; some mothers have given birth alone, and many new parents have been unable to access the formal and informal support they would have expected in the days, weeks and months following the birth of their child.
Given the critical importance of the first two years of a child’s life to their long-term health and wellbeing, the committee said, ‘We cannot wait until the effects of the last 15 months are established before taking action.’
Plans should include ‘catch-up’ health visitor appointments; additional funding for services that support new parents and a system that monitors the impact of the pandemic on the emotional, social and physical development of babies born since the start of the pandemic.
There were 285 reports of child deaths and incidents of serious harm between April and September 2020, a rise of more than a quarter on the same period a year before, the letter cites.
The charity School-Home Support reported a 750 per cent increase in the number of children who needed to be referred to social services between March and May last year, compared to the same period the year before.
The committee said that it was ‘not convinced’ that Local Authority Children’s Services, or third sector organisations have the resources required to respond to this increase in need.
It calls on the Government to work with local authorities to identify and provide the additional funding for Children’s Services that will be required as a result of the pandemic, both in the next 12 months and in the next two to five years.
The parents of disabled children that the committee heard from said they felt abandoned during the pandemic, with damaging consequences on their own wellbeing and their children’s wellbeing.
In addition to providing any extra resources that may be needed to enable health and social care services to catch up on the backlog of missed appointments as a result of the pandemic, the Government should ‘review its approach to service provision’, the letter states.
This could involve classing services for disabled children as ‘essential’ in order to prevent the levels of disruption that have occurred over the last 15 months, should further periods of social distancing be required in future.
Source Nursery World