Experts warn children’s voices are not being heard during COVID-19 outbreak

28 April 2020

Evidence from children’s rights and participation professionals shows inequalities across 20 countries in Europe

New research carried out across 20 countries in Europe shows that children are consistently reporting difficulties related to COVID-19, including mental health and wellbeing problems, information shortages, problems accessing education or digital technology, and a lack of basic essentials.

The research found deeper challenges were faced by children in alternative care and care leavers, young Roma, children in vulnerable family situations and those with experience of poverty, disability, migration, or exposure to sexual exploitation, violence and trafficking.

The study, conducted in April 2020 by a team of experts led by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), analysed accounts of current practices from 96 children’s rights and participation professionals.

Professor Cath Larkins, Director at UCLan’s Centre for Children and Young People’s Participation, said: “This is a time of significant stress and uncertainty for children, and these challenges are taking a particular toll on the most disadvantaged young people in our societies. But children are also making contributions at the frontline of caring, and are creating solutions.”

The research indicates that in 30 percent of the countries surveyed, children are involved in creating and suggesting solutions which could help improve their experiences of isolation, education and safeguarding. This includes young Roma and Travellers creating videos and posters to share ideas about keeping safe and keeping busy, and disabled young people designing a new research study to understand the long-term impact of COVID-19 on their peers. However, these insights offered by children are not being consistently taken into account, particularly at the national level. Around 70 percent of survey respondents indicated there were no attempts to learn from children’s perspectives.

"This is a time of significant stress and uncertainty for children, and these challenges are taking a particular toll on the most disadvantaged young people in our societies."

For example, in Spain and Finland, children have taken part in live TV conferences, asking questions to presidents and ministers, but this is not happening in other countries. No examples were yet reported of governments using the evidence from thousands of children and young people, provided through online surveys, to inform, for example, how education or social care is provided.

Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General of Eurochild, said: “Public authorities should have participation strategies in place ensuring they respond rapidly to provide information to children and to learn from children about their needs. This is especially important during a pandemic, as many countries begin to ease restrictions placed on everyday life. It’s important that measures are put in place to help children feel supported and heard during this period, and that they can help shape the future.”

The lack of involvement of children, highlighted as a concern by the report, echoes previous research and current guidance from the United Nations, which has indicated how involving children can play a vital role in reducing and recovering from risks and disasters.

Academics and surveyed professionals recommend that individual children should be supported through direct contact with individuals in education and social care, giving them the chance to receive support and voice concerns with a trusted adult professional.

"We are seeing some fantastic work by schools, social care, youth and community groups during this period, and children are voicing their concerns to adult professionals they trust where they still have contact with them. It is time to take these children’s ideas into account and strengthen these initiatives as we consider how to reshape services and education now and into the future. 

“We know how to do this – before COVID-19, governments used children's expert advice to inform policy, especially in Wales, Scotland and other parts of Europe. By putting these processes into place now, we can create policies and solutions that are inclusive of everyone,” Professor Larkins added.