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Study shows 76% of 5-16yr olds suffered from loneliness during the Covid-19 pandemic

No Isolation (@_NoIsolation), the Nordic startup committed to reducing loneliness and social isolation through the creation and implementation of ‘warm technology’, has today released the findings of an in-depth investigation into the impact of Covid-19 on the emotional and educational development of British school-aged children.

The paper, “Impact of covid on school children” authored by independent researcher, Henry Peck, aims to shed light on the consequences of school closures, as well as exploring how concerns around the pandemic will affect the likelihood of children returning to school in September 2020.

No Isolation, the company behind the AV1 telepresence avatar, which allows children with long-term or chronic illness to attend school from their own home or hospital bed, was already aware of the effect that social isolation can have on a child’s educational development and mental health. As such, it was keen to understand the impact of nationwide lockdown on the wider population of school-aged children in the UK (an estimated 8,967,589 pupils, aged 5-16). No Isolation, together with independent researcher, Henry Peck, collected responses from 1,005 parents and carers of 1,477 children spanning primary and secondary school. Quotas were applied to the survey so that the participant spread was weighted by socio-economic group and by age and sex of child to provide a representative sample of children in the UK. 

We are committed to creating solutions that will help children stay connected to their friends and their education, regardless of circumstance,comments Karen Dolva, CEO and Co-Founder of No Isolation.

“We’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact that loneliness can have on a child, and know that children that can’t attend school don’t just miss out on learning, they miss out on friendships too. This report sheds light on the hundreds of thousands of young people that may not be able to rejoin their friends in the autumn, and it is vital that they don’t fall through the cracks. As a company committed to solving the loneliness crisis we plan to continue researching the impact of this unprecedented pandemic and driving the conversation around how we, as a nation, can ensure the mental wellbeing and educational development of those most affected”.

The impact of Covid-19 on childhood mental health

A concerning 76% of parents and carers reported that, since lockdown, they have become worried that their children are suffering from loneliness. The results showed that parents and carers of 5-10-year-olds worry that their children are lonely often or all of the time, whilst parents and carers of 11-16-year-olds worry that their children are lonely at least some of the time. This is likely due to the fact that older children have greater access to social technologies, and younger children more regularly rely on non-verbal forms of communication and play with their peers, which are difficult to recreate when away from the classroom.

Loneliness has been found to have serious implications for both physical and mental health – people suffering from loneliness are 32% more likely to have a stroke and are 26% more at risk of early mortality. From No Isolation’s own research into the impact of school absence due to long-term illness, it knows that children are particularly vulnerable to loneliness if they are not able to enter the school environment. By staying at home, they miss out on many formative social interactions. Lacking this contact during early years of development can be devastating, and lead children to become anxious and isolated. 

Additionally, the report showed that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused mental health challenges to emerge or grow during lockdown, resulting in 2% of children feeling unable to return to school in September 2020. When applied to the general population of school-aged children in the UK, this equates to approximately 180,000 young people feeling too anxious to reenter the classroom. 

The impact of Covid-19 on a child’s ability to return to school 

6% of children are not expected to return to school this September due to concerns surrounding coronavirus which, if applied to the wider population equates to approximately 540,000 children. Health concerns over coronavirus made up the primary reasons for non-attendance. 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. As mentioned previously, mental health challenges that have emerged or grown during the pandemic, such as anxiety, were also cited as a reason for 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. 

The impact of Covid-19 of educational development 

When schools went into lockdown, 6% of the children surveyed continued to attend classes on-site, having been identified as vulnerable or the child of a key worker. Of the children who stayed home when schools closed, 86% had access to materials from the school for independent study, and 50% were reported to have help from household members for a certain number of hours per day.

Students from higher socio-economic groups were significantly more likely than those from lower socio-economic groups to have access to materials from the school (90% as opposed to 82%) and to remote exercises with classmates (30% compared to 15%). This disparity may be accounted for by the lack of resources and external funding that is afforded to schools in poorer areas. 

Further, children from wealthier families are more likely to return to school in person, with the research indicating that a larger percentage of children from higher socio-economic groups (55%) plan to attend school in September than those from lower socio-economic groups (45%). According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Covid-19 has disproportionately affected people from poorer backgrounds and, as a result, there may be more hesitation about children returning to environments where they may come into contact with the virus.

Taking into consideration the fact that those who do not return to school are more likely to be from lower socio-economic groups: a group that has had less access to learning materials and peer support during the pandemic, and may most benefit from returning to the classroom environment, the UK is facing a very real possibility of a widening in social inequality among this generation.

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