The Covid-19 pandemic has put the issue of children’s wellbeing under the spotlight. But how are children doing really? And how do we know? We gathered the experts to get to the heart of the issue in our latest podcast.
Chair – Deborah Hardoon, Head of Evidence – What Works Centre for Wellbeing
Adrian Bethune, Primary teacher and founder of Teach Happy
Richard Crellin, Wellbeing Policy and Research Manager – The Children’s Society
Dr Praveetha Patalay, Associate Professor – University College London
How are children doing?
- There has been a continued decrease in average happiness with life among 10-15 year olds in the UK, according to data from The Children’s Society’s Good Childhood Report.This trend is also reflected in the recent ONS State of the Nation Report on children and young people’s wellbeing.
Add a global pandemic, national lockdown and six months without school on top of this and it’s no surprise that the wellbeing of children is currently a big cause for concern. Yet the data shows a mixed picture of how children are impacted.
Impact of Covid-19
- Overall, children had coped well with lockdown, according to research by The Children’s Society. Some children even thrived, with more family time and less pressure from school. Where children coped less well was with not seeing friends and family. Social connections and a sense of control, in particular, are important to wellbeing – and lockdown took both of these away.
It is also clear that as with adults, the impact of the pandemic has not been equal for all children.
- Family relationships are especially important to the wellbeing of children. Some family relationships have been adversely affected by the economic impact of the pandemic: redundancies; financial stress; and the stress felt by parents juggling working from home with childcare. For vulnerable children, already living with domestic violence and with existing mental health issues, lockdown was particularly bad, as the usual sources of support were harder to access.
How do we know?
In the UK we are good at collecting national data on adult wellbeing – the ONS includes four wellbeing questions in its Annual Population Survey, commonly known as the ONS4 – but there is still no formal data for children, although the ONS has recently published its proposals for a new framework.
Because there is no national measure for children’s wellbeing, schools often end up using different methods for measuring pupil wellbeing but then struggle to benchmark it.
This is an important gap in the evidence. The Centre, along with The Children’s Society, is focusing on a comprehensive national measurement of children’s subjective wellbeing – ideally from Year Three (aged 7-8) upwards – on a regular, termly basis. You can read more about our work on children and young people’s wellbeing.
Doing this would mean that not only will schools be able to compare their own data with national trends, but decision makers can understand how children feel about their lives and then target resources properly and better understand outcomes.
Making the difference
We asked our panellists what single thing they thought would make the biggest difference in improving children’s wellbeing.
‘Adopt a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing. Make wellbeing part of the whole school policy – where the senior team believes that wellbeing is a core part of a good education, and prioritises relationships and a sense of belonging within schools.’
‘Tackle child poverty. Although the relationship between children’s wellbeing and income is complex, we know it has pernicious effects in all areas of life. Ultimately poverty puts stress on family relationships – and this is one of the key drivers of child wellbeing.’
‘Take the pressure off. When we are growing up, our future often depends on performing well in a few key moments (SATs, GCSEs, A Levels). Inequality puts even more pressure on children in these moments, to do well for a better life. We need to create more space for children to fail, and therefore to succeed overall.’
Children and young people's wellbeing
Find out more about our work to better measure, protect, and improve wellbeing.