Harriet Gridley, UK Director at No Isolation, spoke to QA Education about the child mental health issues which students are facing due to lockdown…
Has No Isolation received feedback from parents about how child mental health has been affected by lockdown?
For a lot of students heading back to school, the first days back were seemingly quite overwhelming and scary, especially for the younger kids who were confused by all the new rules. Whilst some kids may have really benefited from the lockdown and time out of school, others have fallen behind in their studies, at the same time becoming isolated from friends and social circles. The long-term effects of isolation during lockdown may have left many kids feeling anxious and uneasy in social settings and large groups.
We at No Isolation have also heard from some families whose children are not able to go back to school right now due to ill health and health concerns. We’ve received some feedback around the educational arrangements that some schools across the UK have set up for them and, unfortunately, whilst these setups allow children suffering from serious medical conditions and with underlying health concerns to stay connected to their education, they don’t take care of the child’s emotional needs. In many cases, an iPad or tablet is being placed on the desk, so the child can dial into the lessons. Unfortunately, these kids have ended up feeling left out because they don’t feel connected to their friends, and can’t participate at lunch or break time. In addition, we have found that technology often does not work and, in fact, often interrupts the child’s education overall.
As a result, these families are looking to the use of interactive tools, such as AV1, which will allow them to actively participate and be physically in the room.
For those that are not familiar with AV1, it is a telepresence avatar that allows children to be present with their friends. It is small, lightweight and securely live-streams, thanks to an integrated 4G sim card, what it is seeing and hearing to an iPad or smartphone held by the child, who can then speak through AV1 and control its facial expressions and movement via the connected device.
Has No Isolation seen an increase in enquiries since the start of the pandemic?
Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a significant rise in the number of enquiries we are receiving about AV1. Enquiries have been for a number of different reasons and from families who are seeking a way to help their children maintain their education in a meaningful way, that previously would not need to have kept them home from school.
There are children who will be at high risk from the virus, that would not necessarily have had to be kept out of school previously, but who would now be thought of as ‘high risk’. These children need to remain connected with their education, but also with their friends, so as to keep building healthy social skills, and not feel left out.
Enquiries are also coming from families where the child is fit and well, but due to living with a vulnerable person, ie. an elderly grandparent or a family member with severe health conditions, the whole household will be continuing to shield. Again, it is imperative to these families that the children are not missing out or being cut off from social circles or their studies.
We’ve not been surprised by this interest, though, and we are keen to support these children as best we can. Throughout the summer, we worked with independent researcher, Henry Peck, to better understand the effect of lockdown on educational and emotional development in school-aged children. We collected responses from 1,005 parents and carers of 1,477 children spanning primary and secondary school and found that according to our research, as much as 6% of students across the UK, or an estimated 540,000, will continue to stay at home, due to mental or physical health concerns, directly related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
When asked, the most common reason given was the risk of a healthy child contracting coronavirus and becoming ill, with the second-most common reason being the risk of a household member catching coronavirus from the child. Mental health challenges that have emerged or grown during the pandemic, such as anxiety, were also cited within our research as a key reason for students not returning to school, equating to a third of these cases.
Of all the children unlikely to attend school in September, 40% lived in a house with a vulnerable family member, indicating that family vulnerability factors heavily into attitudes on whether or not a child can return to school. However, official statistics have indicated that as much as 12% of children have in fact been forced to resume at home due to the pandemic and suspected health concerns over coronavirus, double our predicted number.
Will the “rule of six” have an impact on troubled pupils?
Social isolation is best alleviated by the quality of relationships, rather than the quantity, so the rule of 6 is not likely to have a significant impact, I would think. But of course there could be instances where some children are left out of birthdays or events, which could lead to feelings of isolation.