The impact of COVID-19 on young children

I was fortunate last week to be able to attend a virtual meeting with colleagues from across the globe who all have either a professional role in working with young children or a research interest in finding out the impacts and experiences of young children’s lives. Each attendee shared news of how very young children in their geographical and cultural context had been impacted by the global pandemic. It was interesting, although perhaps hardly surprising, that there were many similarities reported across the cultural contexts. In terms of the English context, I was able to signpost research work carried out  by Pascal et al. (2020) for the Sutton Trust.

The Sutton Trust is, of course, a charity, which concerns itself with social inequalities relating to educational experiences. As such they had commissioned this research to find out about the experiences of young children, their families and their settings through and beyond lockdown. The pandemic has highlighted many concerns around inequality; this is a subject we have commented on previously in this blog. Pascal et al.’s Impact brief reveals specific information about inequalities in the early years.

In survey responses, parents revealed that very few of them were continuing to access early years settings for their children. This may seem obvious, but it is noteworthy that only 7% of children who were already attending settings continued to attend. This situation raises questions about the impact both on those who did and didn’t continue to attend. From the parents’ perspective they believed there was ‘a particularly negative impact on their child’s social and emotional development and wellbeing’ (Pascal et al., 2020) regardless of whether their child was accessing a setting or not. Other parents, along with some practitioners, reported concerns about the impact on children’s physical development.

The greatest impact on physical development was seen for those children from disadvantaged backgrounds. For example, children who had no access to their own garden or natural areas in their local environment were seen to be at the greatest risk of a negative impact on their development. We have written elsewhere about the importance of the outdoors for babies and toddlers. This concern was articulated by practitioners in Pascal et al.’s report who ‘expressed some anxiety about the physical development of those children living in high rise flats with limited green spaces’. However, despite this negative scenario, for some children there had been a potential positive impact in terms of other areas of development.

The limited number of children who have been able to continue attending formal care (key worker children and children deemed to be at risk) may have benefited from the lower number of children attending settings. For example, they have had more one to one attention which could have impacted on their learning and development. Pascal et al. (2020) found that ‘Settings in more deprived areas were more likely to have remained open’. Nevertheless, other children and their families have ‘dropped off the radar… despite the efforts of many providers to support such children remotely’.

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