Today, Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, added to the growing number of critical voices aimed at the Government’s failure to highlight the needs of children during the coronavirus pandemic.
Statistics published by the Department of Education on 21st April revealed that on Friday 17th April, only 5% of children officially classed as ‘vulnerable’ attended school, despite the fact that all vulnerable children are entitled to attend during lockdown.
Tulip Siddique, the Shadow Minister for Children, has written to the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, demanding the transfer of additional funds to children’s charities so that the charities can support those who are most at risk. Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson, Layla Moran, said that urgent Government action was imperative because:
‘Government has a responsibility to keep kids safe, and we just don’t know if they are,’https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/apr/21/just-5-of-vulnerable-children-were-in-school-in-england-last-week
The statistics also revealed a drop in attendance numbers for children of key workers; from 85,000 on Wednesday 23rd March (when emergency schooling provision began) to 62,000 on Friday 17th April.
The lockdown period has seen an increase in the number of children coming into the care system, with some being removed from perilous domestic conditions by the police and some fleeing scenes of domestic violence. Anne Longfield said:
‘Vulnerable children are not likely to succumb to the virus but there is a huge secondary risk for them being locked up at home.’https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/re-opening-schools-is-a-lifeline-for-lost-children-9zrgb5r8p
The Children’s Commissioner has also compiled a regularly updated advice sheet called ‘Coronavirus, children and you,’ and explained that its primary function for parents, professionals and carers was:
‘Not just to pass on official guidance, which is important, but to reflect both your thoughts and questions that have been raised during the crisis and the response to it and where possible provide you with clarity and answers. We will also lay out where we are lobbying for changes to the response to make them even more effective help for for children and their families.’https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/coronavirus/
Writing in The Times, (22nd April, reference as above), Alice Thomson has called for a volunteer army to troubleshoot for children:
‘There is now a volunteer army for old people; the time has come to start one for the vulnerable young otherwise many could be left behind forever,’
Helen Clark, Lead Author for the APPG on A Fit and Healthy Childhood commented:
The Children’s Commissioner is working at full stretch at this terrible time of anxiety and I hope that many will make use of her excellent advice sheet regularly. It’s good also to see Opposition MPs like Tulip and Layla speaking up for children and challenging the Government about its disgraceful ‘no show’ on these issues. The Times journalist, Alice Thomson, also makes a very relevant point when she calls for a dedicated army of volunteers to champion children and this is an excellent idea.
But what we now need above all is for the post of Minister for Children to be upgraded to Cabinet level and for that Minister to be on the ‘inside’ track when taking decisions that will affect every single family in the country.
Children’s needs must be at the heart of all policy decision-making in the COVID-19 crisis and the Children’s Commissioner and a new Cabinet Minister for Children should feature on a daily basis at the press conferences. At present, children are falling behind and it is time that the drift was halted and progress made before the damage done is irretrievable to some of the most vulnerable individuals in the UK.