We owe it to children to bring ‘The Hidden Crisis’ into the light

We owe it to children to bring ‘The Hidden Crisis’ into the light

11th March 2021

Across the UK, children are dealing with the emotional trauma the crisis has brought. While TLG staff and volunteers are doing what they can to help, we need UK-wide lasting change to support children's wellbeing and tackle the hidden crisis. Beth, TLG's Policy Lead, writes about what this could look like.

When TLG’s wider Advocacy Team first met in late 2019, it was overwhelming to see the challenge that lay ahead – speaking up for those who could not speak for themselves across so many important issues.

Our main aim since that first meeting has always been to stay led by what is happening on the ground; to focus on the issues that TLG volunteers and staff on the frontline tell us are causing children and families to struggle and to get to the core of what it is that must change to transform lives for good on a UK-wide scale.

When the pandemic hit a few months later, one of those clear issues from TLG’s work on the frontline that had to be a priority for the Advocacy Team, was the potentially devastating impact the COVID-19 crisis was having on children’s emotional wellbeing.

Isolation from family and friends, added stress of trying to keep up with schoolwork while at home and anxiety around catching the virus are among the many challenges children had to navigate through the past year. In addition, some have faced the stress of not being able to access their school work due to a lack of digital access, been conscious of parental concerns about financial insecurity after losing employment, or even suffered the bereavement of a loved one to the virus.

Across the UK, children are dealing with the emotional trauma the crisis has brought, often with little help. While TLG staff and volunteers do an amazing job supporting so many struggling children in local families across the UK, there were clearly bigger changes that needed to be made on a national level to help mitigate the effects of the crisis and prevent it from negatively impacting children for years to come.

That is why, in the first week of March, TLG released ‘The Hidden Crisis’ briefing paper. This briefing paper looks into the link between emotional wellbeing and school exclusions – and the impact COVID-19 has had. The paper tells the stories of a number of TLG students, while bringing forward practical policy recommendations for government and others to implement to stop the wellbeing crisis in children from soaring out of control.

You can read 'The Hidden Crisis' here.

At the core of our recommendations is the importance of a trauma-responsive approach, something TLG is constantly working towards across our programmes. Wider than TLG, we want to see a trauma-responsive and early intervention approach everywhere in education: in the classroom, in any school disciplinary proceedings and across all other education services.

A trauma-responsive approach provides relational, sensitive responses to help children form healthy regulation and coping strategies. Such therapeutic intervention at an early stage is proven to prevent children from reaching crisis point in their education, such as being permanently excluded from school.

There needs to be a rethink about the way behaviour is viewed and the way school exclusions are used. 'Persistent disruptive behaviour' is one of the most common causes of exclusion, yet those incidents are so often a child trying to communicate that they are struggling. Such a child must be met by holistic and therapeutic support, which enables them to regulate their emotions and form coping mechanisms which help them identify better choices when faced with similar situations in the future.

Included in our recommendations is a call for trauma-responsive training to be incorporated into teacher training and for each local authority to employ a trauma-specialist to support schools and those children at risk of exclusion. A call for each school to have access to some sort of trauma-specialist or emotional wellbeing counsellor is not a new suggestion, it has been echoed by individuals and organisations across the sector but has yet to come into fruition – despite being a change that will make a difference in the lives of millions of children across the UK.

The writing of this paper took us on a journey to the very core of the challenges so many children faced before the pandemic, how those challenges have been further intensified by it and the potential life-long consequences if they are not given the support they need. Many of these challenges we were already aware of through our 20 years’ experience supporting children’s wellbeing through our programmes. But it still breaks our hearts every time we hear another story about the reality of what children are forced to face each day. It also uplifts us when we see proof of another child now thriving in a mainstream school environment because a volunteer took the time to listen, to support and to teach the child coping mechanisms – all while using therapeutic play and other trauma-responsive practices.

Children are struggling and are carrying burdens they should not have to carry. But, as ‘The Hidden Crisis’ demonstrates, it doesn’t have to be this way. There can be change. There should be change. There must be change. We owe it to our children.

The emotional wellbeing of children must be put straight to the top of the agenda, both in the recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis and into the future.

To find out more about what a trauma-responsive approach looks like, how it can help alleviate the wellbeing pressures facing children and prevent exclusions, read ‘The Hidden Crisis’ here.

Beth Prescott

Beth Prescott

Before coming to TLG, Beth worked as a Fundraising Project Manager for poverty-relief charity Christians Against Poverty. Beth also has expansive experience in the political sector. Beth is a season ticket holder at Huddersfield Town and enjoys hiking through the Yorkshire countryside followed by a local ale in the pub.

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