Concern for regression of children in pandemic

Updated / Saturday, 13 Feb 2021 19:53
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By Samantha Libreri

The Children's Ombudsman has said he is concerned about the regression all children have experienced because of the pandemic and that children will look back on this period and say that adults and the system failed them.

The Ombudsman said that his office has received reports of Leaving Cert students who were suicidal; parents unable to look after children with special needs in their homes due to challenging behaviour; and children being brought to emergency psychiatric appointments in order to get sedation during lockdown.

Dr Muldoon said he is worried about the long-term impact that the pandemic will have on children's mental health, their trust in adults and in wider society.

"My biggest problem is the regression of children across the board. The impact on their self confidence, their ability to trust the system and the adults that run that system.

"There could be a serious backlash in relation to that in the future, it's hard to predict what that will be, but I certainly think the children, the young people of this generation are going to have a real serious look at how we dealt with it as adults, how our systems supported them and provided the support they need. And I think they're going to look into that and say we failed."

The Children's Ombudsman also said the Government had failed to put a plan in place for the reopening of education despite having ample time.

Dr Muldoon said he has been asking the Department for these plans since last September and he did not understand why there was a delay in the reopening of special schools and mainstream schools that catered for children with special needs.

He said the reopening of schools for all children needs to be negotiated as quickly as possible with children rather than adults at the centre of the plans.

And he said any plans that are made need to be permanent ones so that children do not face this issue again.

"When I see a blockage happening in regards to planning for the return to school I think that's really somebody ignoring what's happening on the ground.

"It shouldn't take that long to plan it. Children need that routine, the parents need that routine, and the security that comes with it. There's just so much more than education. It should be moving forward much quicker," he added.

The ISPPC said its Childline service has also seen an increase in anxiety, loneliness and suicidal thoughts among the children who contacted the service in the past year of the pandemic.

Its CEO John Church said the trends were concerning.

"Children should not be feeling this sort of anxious at any age, but particularly during lockdown.

"Children as young as eight, nine or ten are ringing saying they are feeling very, very lonely," said Mr Church.

"They're missing their friends from school, they're missing their grandparents. We're having children as young as 13 and 14 years of age ringing us with suicidal thoughts which has to be a direct impact of this pandemic."

He said re-opening schools as a matter of urgency and allowing children return to their past times as soon as possible were key to dealing with these issues.

"That's having an impact now on children, and will definitely have an impact on the future. I think we need to get children back to school, back to their environments, back to their friends and family and trusted adults, as soon as possible," said Mr Church.