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ESRI: The Implications of Covid-19 for policy in relation to children and young people

ESRI: The Implications of Covid-19 for policy in relation to children and young people

July 28, 2020

A new research paper has been published by The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), which evaluates how the Covid-19 crisis has affected children and young people in four main areas: family and peer relationships; formal and informal learning; physical and mental health and wellbeing; and transitions to further/higher education, training and the youth labour market. The report was produced in partnership with Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and draws on existing and emerging Irish and international research in the area.


The report brings important insights on how the Covid restrictions affects family relationships, and therefore the emotional wellbeing of young children. First, a deterioration of the family’s financial state increases maternal depression. Parents in psychological distress tend to become harsher in their parenting style, which in turn, is linked to children feeling less happy and more anxious. Second, amongst the parents who can work remotely, existing evidence shows a strong association between working from home and long work hours. In this case, the clash of multiple roles in the home – especially amongst mothers, who end up bearing the primary responsibility for childcare – can lead to stress and a consequent deterioration in family relationships. Third, having to live under lockdown boosts the discomfort of overcrowded living spaces. Fourth, emerging evidence indicates that family violence in the home may be increasing during the pandemic. In Ireland, the number of calls for help relating to domestic violence increased 25 per cent compared to the previous year. In addition, the emotional distress of children is also likely to be increased by the lack of direct interaction with friends and extended family and by the limiting of outdoor activities. These channels operate even more strongly amongst disadvantaged groups.


In the field of education, the authors highlight that early-years education has been found to have a strong impact on social mobility and to help narrow the attainment gap. Accordingly, the closure has likely contributed to a growing gap in outcomes between more and less advantaged children. In the field of physical health, Ireland registered a very marked decline in access to medical and dental services during the pandemic. The largest reductions in attendance to hospital emergency departments were for the youngest age groups, with a drop of 39 per cent for the under-10s. In addition, the crisis also brings about implications for continuity of care for chronic conditions and for waiting lists, especially in areas such as speech and language therapy, where the lists are already long. One more time, the consequences will disproportionally fall on disadvantaged groups, given its greater prevalence of long-standing conditions and lack of health insurance cover.


While some of the consequences of the pandemic restrictions will likely be short-term, such as the resumption of regular peer relations, others might be long-term, such as physical wellbeing, educational performance and emotional distress caused by financial uncertainty. The biggest message of the study is that Covid will exacerbate the social asymmetries that existed previously. Therefore, specific policies for marginalised groups – such as children from poor backgrounds, with special needs, migrants, refugees, and Roma and Traveller children – need to be designed.

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