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As Covid's impacts on children mount, the importance of evidence in providing support only grows


29 Jan 2021

With new studies and data continuing to pile up, and national and local services making critical decisions about provision under increasing pressure, Dr Jo Casebourne takes a moment to highlight the importance of evidence as a ‘guiding light’ during the murky months ahead.

A month into 2021 and another national lockdown, Covid-19 and its impacts on children are, rightly, still very much in the headlines. Almost daily there are new stories of how the pandemic is impacting on families. Research from the University of Oxford has shown how parents are struggling during lockdown with stress, anxiety and depression, which is unsurprising given many parents are struggling to balance home schooling and holding down a job, whilst they are already exhausted and under financial strain. This has an effect on children and young people too, more of whom now feel unable to cope. Brand new data underlines the impact of the first lockdown on young children’s education, particularly from more disadvantaged backgrounds. And on top of that we’ve seen a shocking rise in child abuse.

All of this means increasing pressure on local councils, schools and other services supporting children and families. Our work with a group of local authorities this week highlighted a range of issues that they are worrying about. Domestic abuse is top of the list, with eye-watering increases in calls to helplines and cases captured by police data. They are seeing the families coming into children’s services with more serious needs and in greater levels of crisis, while early help services are seeing ‘new’ families that they haven’t seen before, who are facing complex issues that often lead to quicker escalation and more intensive interventions. Use of food banks is increasing. Younger children are being affected by issues such as eating disorders. And these pressures continue to rise: there was a general sense among this group of local authorities that families are struggling more in this lockdown, with parental mental health issues becoming increasingly apparent.

At a time of rising demand and resources that are, at best, failing to keep pace, every decision about which services to provide and which forms of support to introduce, keep or replace, becomes critically important. In this situation where the stakes are so high, local leaders and managers need more than ever to back the ‘best bets’ – the services and interventions that have been shown to work in the past.

This is where evidence comes into play: it’s critical that those making these crucial decisions have access to the evidence on what is most likely to be effective. Not every intervention makes a difference, and it is possible to do harm. There are some things that have been well tested and shown to improve outcomes, and we should be delivering more of them. With such scarce resources in public services, and at such a time of crisis, it is difficult to justify any other approach.

The months ahead may look a little murky, and we know they will be full of tough choices with serious implications for the services and support available to children and families. In these circumstances, evidence can provide a guiding light.

For our part, we’ll be continuing to work with teachers on supporting children’s mental health when schools are allowed to re-open, as well as getting evidence out to local authorities like the group we spoke to this week, so that our collective response to the children and families who are struggling the most has the biggest chance of making a positive difference.

About the author

Dr Jo Casebourne

Jo is CEO at What Works for Early Intervention and Children's Social Care.