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Vulnerable children ‘Invisible’ during Pandemic

26 Aug 2021

Launching her new report, ‘A New and Better Normal: Children & Young People’s Experiences of the Covid 19 Pandemic’, Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People said,

“It is clear, hearing from, and speaking to, children and young people about their experiences over the past 17 months, that no child was untouched by this Pandemic. Vulnerable children, however, were invisible on the whole and made much more vulnerable because of it.”

The report contains the experiences of almost 4500 children and young people through surveys and focus groups. The aim is to provide an assessment of the impact of government’s response to the pandemic on the lives of children and young people across Northern Ireland.

The Commissioner continued, “We have looked at several key areas including poverty, health, social/recreational activities, family life and education. We have placed a particular focus on vulnerable groups including children in care, children with disabilities, and children at risk of abuse.

“The inability of the education system to be creative and respond in a timely manner to emerging issues has been deeply frustrating, not least on the issue of digital poverty.

“What was particularly distressing was the real feeling of abandonment by families of children with special educational needs - particularly those with the most profound needs, who were unable to access critical services for months at a time”.

The Report also found that young people felt ignored with insufficient information provided to them and little meaningful engagement from decision makers. Children in the justice system and refugee or asylum-seeking children said they became even more marginalised from society because of how the government responded to the Pandemic.

“A lot of children became poorer without access to the full range of financial support, some were unable to access health treatments and those at risk of abuse became more vulnerable when new emergency laws were introduced to limit the support and protection they required”, said Koulla.

Surveys of over 2000 Primary 7 pupils and over 2000 16 years olds explored their experiences during the Pandemic and show:

  • 46% of P7s and 70% of 16-year-olds felt their education had been negatively affected
  • 17% of 16 year olds said their indoor and outdoor space was inadequate
  • 27% of 16-year-olds could not get medical treatment during the pandemic for a health issue not related to Coronavirus
  • 41% of Primary 7 respondents and 52% of 16-year-olds felt their mental and emotional health had worsened during the pandemic and
  • Approximately 30% of children that responded to both surveys reported that the lockdown had made their physical health worse.

Koulla concluded, “I know the NI Executive worked hard during the Pandemic, but we have learnt that poor implementation of children’s rights in government policies before a public emergency makes vulnerable children even more so during it.

“The Pandemic has laid bare the deep-rooted inequalities in our communities. This report is intended to make sure government learn the lessons.

“It is clear there must now be a focus on embedding a child rights culture within government and its agencies so that, whether we face another public emergency or not, all children get the best start in life and continue to be prioritised in Government Policy throughout their childhood.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

  • You can view the main, summary and children and young people’s summary reports here.
  • You can watch the launch event here
  • For further information or to request an interview with the Commissioner please contact communications@niccy.org or call, text or WhatsApp 07917544177
  • Focus Groups included: children and young people who have experience of the Juvenile Justice Centre (supported by the Youth Justice System), have mild/moderate learning disabilities (supported by MENCAP), experience of living in care (supported by VOYPIC), have had a cancer diagnosis (supported by Cancer Fund for Children), experience housing insecurity/ live independently (supported by MACS), are in secure care (supported by NIACRO), young people from rural communities and who come from an ethnic minority background (supported by Dungannon Youth Resource Centre), children from the Roma and Traveller communities (supported by Armagh Roma and Traveller Support), Separated or asylum seeking young people (supported by Barnardos), Young Carers (supported by Action for Children), young people leaving police custody (supported by Mindwise), Children with family members in prison (supported by NIACRO), Children with a heart condition (supported by Children’s Heartbeat Trust).

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