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Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, Roderic O’Gorman T.D., has today announced the publication of the report ‘Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic for Policy in Relation to Children and Young People.’

The report, published by the ESRI, and produced in partnership with Department of Children and Youth Affairs, draws on existing and emerging Irish and international research on the effects of the pandemic restrictions on children and young people. In particular, the report reviews research evidence in the areas of family and peer relationships, health and wellbeing, education (from early childhood to third-level) and post-school transitions to provide insights into the potential consequences of the current crisis from infancy to early adulthood.

The report concludes that:

  • School closures and the lack of face-to-face interaction with peers and broader family networks are having direct effects on children’s and young people’s lives.
  • The impact of the pandemic will be felt the most by young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds and those with special educational needs.
  • Parental job loss and the possibility of longer-term unemployment will affect child wellbeing through greater stress in families.

As one of the report’s authors, Merike Darmody, put it:

“The disruption of learning is likely to have long-term consequences for many, especially for more disadvantaged children and young people. While short-term measures are important to address the immediate needs of children and young people, the actions taken need to be underpinned by policies addressing larger structural inequalities.”

Addressing the report the Minister said:

“This report is an important resource for my Department as we work to address the impacts of the crisis on children and young people. The report points to the need to address inequalities, support educational re-engagement and well-being, and the need to assist young people whose transition into the labour market has been disrupted.

“We know that children and young people have been among the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. This report will be a vital tool as we work to address that impact, making clear the need to tackle inequalities, support well-being and re-engagement with education, and help young people back into the labour market.”

Notes

Summary of the report

This report presents a critical synthesis of existing Irish and international research involving children and young people before and during the COVID-19 pandemic period as a basis for discussing the implications for policy development. The study focuses on four main domains:

  • Family and peer relationships;
  • Formal and informal learning;
  • Physical and mental health and wellbeing; and
  • Transitions to further/higher education, training and the youth labour market.

The report identifies key areas for policy development in order to address the effects of responses to COVID-19 on children and young people, and pays specific attention to the problem of widening inequalities. The report also identifies areas for further research.

Key Findings

  • The positive impacts of COVID-19 measures are few but studies suggest an increase in positive family time and, in a UK study, that 40% of parents anticipated a closer relationship with their children after the pandemic.
  • Available evidence in Ireland and internationally suggests that pre-COVID-19 inequalities documented by the Growing Up in Ireland and other studies have grown in the wake of the pandemic.
  • The negative effects on wellbeing and mental health have been more apparent among those from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as among younger adults. The impact is gendered, with women more likely to report feelings of depression, anxiety or sadness during the period of restrictions.
  • While there is less systematic evidence on the effects on children, findings are suggestive of increased inequality for them too.
  • School closures and the move to online learning will have the greatest impact on disadvantaged families and their children. Schools need to put measures in place to counter the negative impact for learners, families and teachers, especially for those in the most marginalised groups (those most disadvantaged in terms of social class, families with children with special educational needs (SEN), migrants, refugees and others) who lack the resources or skills to engage with home schooling.
  • In addition to formal education, learning outside school is also severely affected, with limited options available to young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • While the pandemic impacts on the outcomes of all children, the gap between the advantaged and less advantaged is likely to widen as it will be harder for the more vulnerable groups to ‘catch up’.

The DCYA/ESRI Research Partnership is funded through the department’s ’What Works’ initiative. What Works is an initiative designed by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to support a move to evidence informed prevention and early intervention services for children, young people and their families representing a world first in OECD countries

The purpose of What Works is to take a co-ordinated approach to enhance capacity, knowledge and quality in prevention and early intervention for children, young people and their families. Prevention and early intervention (PEI) involve anticipating possible problems, minimising the risks as they arise, and targeting resources at those at high risk or showing early signs of a problem. Prevention and early intervention can reduce the long-term need for more costly, disruptive interventions throughout the child and young person’s life.

Implications of the COVID Pandemic for Policy in Relation to Children and Young People by Merike Darmody, Emer Smyth and Helen Russell is published as part of the ESRI Survey and Statistical Report Series. The report was undertaken as part of a joint research programme between the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the ESRI. Two other reports associated with this research programme are scheduled for publication in 2020. These reports will focus on the dynamics of child poverty in Ireland, and risk and protective factor in adolescent behaviour.


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