Although the lockdown has been tough on us all, there is one population amongst us who have been particularly vulnerable and upon whom the lockdown has been extremely tough: Children in care.
Just consider for a moment, those amongst us with stable homes and environments, families who love and care for us, and yet we have wound up with anxiety and now live in a state of fear and uncertainty. From the daily death tolls to the unclear restrictions put upon our lives by governments, it’s no wonder the past few months have been hard. But through it all, we normally have a network of people around us we can count on.
However, for children in residential homes, things aren’t as simple. Before the pandemic began, things were already tough for this vulnerable group. Already dealing with limited contact with parents and families, as well as constantly changing environments, the little blanket of security underneath them was ripped away, leaving behind an array of psychological and emotional devastation.
Statistics uncover the impact of COVID-19 for vulnerable children in care
With social restrictions, schools closing and changes to the child’s normal routine being thrown up in the air, the rise in anxiety and depression amongst children and students has increased dramatically.
Save the Children have released recent surveys of a sample of over 6000 children which revealed 65% struggled with feelings of isolation. Feelings of helplessness, loneliness, fear, social exclusion and separation from family, friends or social workers can cause feelings of social isolation and sustained stress, leading to more mental health disorders amongst children.
The World Health Organisation noted the enormous disruption this has had on the lives of young people. When schools closed, children lost the ‘sense of structure and stimulation that is provided by that environment, and now they have less opportunity to be with their friends and get that social support that is essential for good mental well-being’.
Now, combine this with the normal fear’s children experience. Just as adults do, young people also have fears of illness, dying, or losing those they love due to the virus. This type of situation would be extremely overwhelming for the best equipped amongst us, let alone vulnerable children.
Being indoors all the time can also place some children at increased risk of, or increased exposure to, child protection incidents, which in its entirety is a whole other topic.
So, although all children are perceptive to change, young children especially may find the changes that have taken place difficult to understand, and both younger and older children may express irritability and anger. Not to mention that children in care with ADHD and ADD, prone to symptoms of restlessness and edginess, inattentiveness and inability to sit still will find this extremely difficult.
Unicef has also released a report revealing the less-talked-about impacts of the virus hitting vulnerable children in care and their rights, such as:
- 700 million days of education will be missed between the start of the pandemic and summer, not to mention the limited access to resources available to support children remotely.
- Children’s access to healthcare being limited making it harder for children to get the proper care and attention they need.
- Coping mechanisms are reduced, which leads to a bigger build-up of anxiety and stress for those children living with mental health conditions.
- Online abuse has increased, as online supervision has decreased and predators are utilising more tactics to use on young children.
- Children’s voices aren’t heard when decisions are made across the board.
As we can see, the impact of the virus has been severe for children in general, let alone children in care.
So, the question we need to ask is how can we promote health and wellness during and Post-COVID-19 to help children in care face these challenges?
Practical ways to help children in care manage emotional and psychological disturbances
For carers, social workers and those supporting children in care, there is a duty to do their utmost to prevent children from experiencing the full brunt of the pandemic. If you are working with vulnerable children and want to help them manage their fears and overcome the issues they face, please read on and do your best to apply these tips:
Give children the love and attention they need to help their fears resolve. Always be honest with them, and take time to explain whatever is happening in a way that is easy for them to understand.
Be calm yourself first
Ensure you aren’t displaying any obvious anxieties or signs of stress yourself. As a carer or someone working closely with children, children may model your responses and how you deal with things. Children are extremely perceptive, and if they can sense your anxiety or stress, this would make the message you are trying to give harder for them to grasp.
Ensure mental health support services are available for children to access freely, even if remotely.
Talk often as changes happen
Explain the changes to lockdown restrictions as they come up. Ask them about how they feel about these changes and provide reassurance when needed.
Always make time for fun stuff
Increase the amount of time spent with the children doing positive, uplifting, and engaging activities. These can be cooking, playing games together or watching a movie to help them momentarily switch off from their worries.
Keep up routines
Try to keep their regular routines as consistent as possible. This will promote a sense of safety and security within the child.
Give them time to adjust. There are some big changes that have been happening recently, and children need time. Give them space and wherever possible, arrange catch-ups with those they love remotely, until it is safe to do so in person.
By doing these things and taking proactive steps to help children deal with their uncertainties and troubles, they can feel much more supported. This way, one child at a time, we can help pick up the pieces left from the pandemic and give vulnerable children in care a genuine sense of security and love.