As we come out of lockdown, many young people are worried about what will happen next. Schools, colleges, Universities and guardians will need to be fully prepared for when international children return to education in the UK, not only to protect their physical health but also to answer young people’s questions about uncertainty and to deal with the aftermath of the lockdown.
The results of a recent Girlguiding study, which surveyed young women aged 15 -18 years old, found that 87% were worried about the virus spreading again and 74% were worried about going back into lockdown. Nearly all of the girls surveyed, over 90%, wanted more information from adults about what they should expect in the future. In our institutions we should be looking at the following questions: how can we reassure our young people, when we are unsure ourselves? And what can we do to prepare our pupils to be able to face future uncertainty?
70% of young girls surveyed above were also worried about falling behind at school and this was echoed in a study commissioned by The Duke of Edinburgh Award, which surveyed over 9,000 young people aged 14-25. It found that 71% of the young people surveyed were concerned about the impact of the lockdown upon their academic knowledge and skills. In this study, only 57% of young people reported that they were coping “fine” in lockdown. When children return to study, how do we ensure pupils catch-up without putting too much pressure on them to achieve? And how can we draw upon this experience to motivate children to study when the future of the economy is uncertain? These are some of the questions which need to be discussed and considered.
A study carried out by the University of Sheffield showed that the coronavirus outbreak had a negative effect on children’s anxiety levels, with the majority of pupils being worried about their family members. This suggests that when children return to school or college, it is likely they will be worried about the impact this will have on their family members and if they will spread the virus to their families. The study also showed that younger pupils are more likely to have higher anxiety levels, however, overall, well-being scores were lower as children increased in age, suggesting that different age groups will need tailored support. This was supported by a study conducted at the University of Oxford which showed that loneliness in children increased with age, with 18-year old students being the loneliest age-group.
A further study carried out by Young Minds looked at the mental health impact upon young people during the lockdown. 32% of children agreed that the lockdown had made their mental health “much worse” and 51% of participants agreed that it had made their mental health “a bit worse”. 26% of the young people surveyed stated that they were no longer able to access mental health support during lockdown and the majority of children felt that support without face-to-face contact; for example, over the phone or online, was less effective, especially when their problems were related to family members or their home environment. Rising demand for mental health support also meant that children have had to wait longer when contacting helplines for support. 66% of children found reading or watching the news was unhelpful for their mental health; children want to feel informed but feel that the need to keep updated with every detail made them feel worse.
When children return to education, educational institutions need to be prepared for a spike in mental health problems and safeguarding referrals. Managers and leaders need to ensure they are monitoring and training teams to ensure they are fully prepared to answer young people’s questions about future uncertainty by providing an approach which can be followed by all staff members and volunteers. All staff working in educational institutions will need to be prepared to deal with children and young people’s questions, trauma and bereavement, whilst also monitoring the impact this is having upon themselves to ensure they are not suffering from compassion fatigue.
We need to be looking at ways in which we can reassure and inform children and young people without bombarding them with too much information. A tailored support plan for each year group is needed, and young adults attending University will also need additional support. Encouraging all young people to have fun with their peers and providing opportunities for young people to interact with each other as much as possible, is paramount. Institutions could look at extending break and lunchtimes during the transition period and providing more opportunities for young people to meet both before and after school, lessons or lectures in a safe and socially distanced way. Ultimately, we need to work together with our colleagues to quickly and effectively develop processes to treat and support each student as individuals and to recognise the impact that the current crisis is having and will have on them both emotionally and physically, this year and beyond.
Emma Langton is our Senior Guardianship Manager & Safeguarding Lead. Emma has a BSc (Hons) Psychology and Early Years Professional Status (EYPS) and takes a keen interest in all aspects of the welfare and safeguarding of international students. She is particularly interested in mental health provision and support for young people.
This blog has also been published on the AEGIS blog - find it here