Lockdown affecting development of Leeds children, experts claim

Education experts in Leeds have warned that young children from disadvantaged backgrounds are being unfairly impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown.

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 3:33 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th March 2021, 12:43 pm

A meeting of Leeds city councillors also heard how referrals for young people’s mental health services have risen since the start of the lockdown, while households with parents working low-income jobs have not been able to spend as much time together as families.

The meeting was also warned that the effect of a lack of social interaction on babies and toddlers – who have spent such a large proportion of their lives so far in lockdown – was still unknown.

Dr Jane Mischenko is an NHS commissioner in children’s services, told a meeting of the council’s Children’s Scrutiny Board: “After the initial reduction in referrals for mental health services that happened in the first lockdown, they have risen and are now higher than they were this time last year, and they are anticipated to rise again as pupils return to school.

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The extended lockdown is affecting children and young people, experts say. (Adobestock)

“One of the things we don’t know the impact on yet is the impact of babies and toddlers. If you think of the proportion of time that babies and toddlers have been in the pandemic, there is a real unknown about the impact of that social isolation and the reduction of social interaction and what affect it will have on their development.

“We are very conscious of that, but it is a bit of an unknown.”

She added many children and young people who were already struggling with their mental health before the pandemic saw their symptoms exacerbated over the past year.

Janice Burberry, Leeds City Council’s head of public health’s children and families team, told the meeting that a study of around 600 children was currently underway.

She added: “A lot of our families said they did a lot more with their children during lockdown, but these increases weren’t spread equally across families.

“During but not before lockdown, those on low incomes and in more deprived neighbourhoods were less likely to engage in enriching activities, and they spent less time doing activities like reading and things they can do outside.

“There are concerns that the impact of Covid in the long term isn’t being equally felt across families.

“We are seeing slightly increased levels of obesity among children but we don’t have great data about what’s happened post-lockdown. It is our most disadvantaged children who are impacted the most.”

A report which went before councillors outlined a survey done by the council, which showed more than a third of parents said their children were more angry, worried or sad since the lockdown began. Where children were worried, upset or anxious, the majority said it was due to missing family members, friends or school and nursery.