The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been widespread, affecting the lives of every baby, child and young person in the country. This generation of children face unprecedented threats to their childhoods and life chances. They deserve an unprecedented response.
Along with over 150 other organisations, The Fostering Network is calling on the Prime Minister to announce that children will join health and the economy as the three pillars of the government’s coronavirus response.
Even before the onset of the crisis, child poverty was rising, school budgets were under pressure, waiting lists for mental health services were unacceptably long, and services supporting families and protecting children from abuse and neglect were at breaking point, stretched by rising need and reduced government funding. Now, they are also a generation over which COVID-19 threatens to cast its shadow for years to come. Our children are in an eerie world, full of uncertainty. They do not know when they can go back to school. They worry about when they can see friends and family. They are anxious about family finances.
We know this uncertainty and worry will lead to anxiety and mental health problems. We know closed schools will damage the educational attainment and life chances of children – the poorest, the most. We know Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities will be hit the hardest. We know there is no certainty about when the crisis will end and when we can see loved ones again. We know there is more financial hardship to come.
We are calling on the Government to embrace a new vision of childhood to support children, young people and their families to recover from the impact of COVID-19. The voices of children, young people and families must be at the heart of the recovery and rebuild process, and there must be renewed investment in the services and workforce that they rely on.
The Budget should be the start of a rescue, recovery and rebuild plan designed to prioritise, support and enable our children to thrive. We need an ambitious, radical plan that will be transformational for the generation of children growing up in today’s modern Britain. That will mean action and investment across Whitehall and in town halls, including: funding for early help services and public health; supporting innovation and integrated working, particularly with charities; dedicated financial support for children; support for early years settings and schools so attainment gains are protected; and unprecedented investment in children’s mental health. This must be accompanied by a commitment to protect children facing additional challenges, like those with disabilities, asylum seekers, abuse victims and those from minority communities.
We will continue to play our part. In the weeks ahead, many of us will share with ministers and officials the key elements needed for such a recovery plan.
The Government, understandably, has so far focused on the immediate health and economic consequences.
It’s now time for the nation to put a strong, protective arm around its children, to stop childhoods being disrupted and life chances being derailed.