COVID-19 Committee Contents

Chapter 6: The Long-term Impact of the Pandemic on Parents and Families

80.If one prevailing memory of the pandemic for many people will be endless Zoom calls, another for some will be being ‘locked down’ and confined to the house as a family. With schools closed to many pupils, many parents working from home, and activities outside the house curtailed by social distancing restrictions, this was a massive change to daily life for many people. While some enjoyed the opportunity to spend more time together, and some children with disabilities, such as autism, found it easier to work in the quiet and familiar environment of their homes, this was not the case for all children and families. Some found the lockdown and related restrictions to be short-term difficulties, for others their impact was, and continues to be, extremely negative.

81.It was these potential long-term implications that we made the focus of our next piece of work. We held evidence sessions with charities who support vulnerable families, and with those who deliver the services that will be needed to support parents and families as a result of the pandemic, and we heard directly from parents themselves. We also held a session focusing on the implications for parents’ employment. Transcripts of these sessions are available on our website,29 alongside the letter that we wrote to the Minister for Children and Families which outlines our key findings and recommendations.30

82.We heard about infants who had not learned to crawl because their housing had such little floor space. We heard about parents who had been left to take “on the burden of doing physio, occupational therapy, [and] speech therapy”,31 as well as home-schooling, for their disabled children, as their pre-COVID packages of 24-hour support disappeared overnight. We heard about an increase in domestic abuse, and an increase in the number of children witnessing domestic abuse, increases in child safeguarding concerns and the potential for increasing numbers of children needing to be taken into care. We heard about delays in young children’s development as a result of not being able to socialise with other children. And we heard about parents being forced to give up work to look after their children, with mothers in particular concerned about long-term damage to their career prospects as a result.

83.It is clear to us that one of the long-term implications of the pandemic will be many more families needing various kinds of support. But it is also clear that, as things stand, this support is not available. Research by Women’s Aid found that one in five women experiencing domestic abuse during the pandemic tried to leave but had been unable to access housing or refuge space.32 Even before the pandemic, it had been estimated that children’s social care was facing a £3.1 billion funding gap.33 The Centre for Mental Health has calculated that 10 million people, including 1.5 million children, in England will need support for their mental health as a direct result of the pandemic over the next three to five year: demand two to three times higher than current NHS mental health capacity.34

84.The unique set of circumstances that the last 18 months have presented also means that there are aspects of these experiences where no one knows what the long-term implications might be. This seems particularly true in relation to child development. As one witness stated: “In a two year-old’s life they have been locked down more than half their life. In a four-year-old’s it is 25%. It is enormous; it is massive. I do not think we can underestimate it.”35 Furthermore, there is every likelihood that increased levels and instances of domestic violence will have far-reaching consequences for children in these situations in years to come.

85.Given this, we were particularly struck by the lack of attention and resource that is being devoted to helping pre-school children recover and ‘catch up’. Only a tiny fraction of the billions the Government has (understandably) provided for educational recovery is available for early years settings and the Nuffield Foundation, Coram Family and Childcare, and the UCL Institute of Education, amongst others, .have raised concerns about the lack of a co-ordinated national response to address “the mounting evidence from Ofsted and others that the disruption in early years services is likely to widen the achievement gap”36 in the emotional and developmental progress of disadvantaged children and their peers.

86.The way that the pandemic confined many families to their houses, and restricted interactions with friends, family and services, has had severe consequences for some. There will be a lasting legacy of increased need for mental health services, domestic abuse services, Local Authority Children’s Services, third sector family support services and others, but the evidence we received suggests these services are nowhere near having the capacity to respond to this.

87.The Government should commit to working with service providers to monitor and forecast the gap between need and capacity over the coming months and years, and to providing the additional funding that will be required to meet that gap.

88.A number of Parliamentary Select Committees have already begun to examine the impact of the pandemic on these types of services, and we would encourage this scrutiny to continue for at least the next two years: it became clear during our inquiry that it may take some time for those who need help to come forward, or to be identified.

89.We are particularly concerned at the lack of attention being given to the potential impact of the pandemic on infants and young children. While the long-term consequences for their physical, social and emotional development are unknown, there is emerging evidence of delayed learning and development amongst the most disadvantaged children, in particular.

90.Staff working in early years settings do not have the training or resource to respond to the different and more challenging needs of those they will now be looking after. The Government should commit to providing adequate funding to support pre-school children to recover from the pandemic, in the same way as it has for school aged children. It should also commit to an ongoing research programme to monitor the impact on these children over the coming years, so that the long-term consequences are fully understood and can be responded to.

91.How those born, or who were very young children, during the pandemic are faring in twelve months’ time might make a fruitful topic for a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry next year.

30 Letter from Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho, Chair of the COVID-19 Select Committee, to Vicky Ford MP, Minister for Children and Families, 23 June 2021: [accessed 1 December 2021]

31 Outreach session held as part of the COVID-19 Committee’s Parents and Families inquiry, 22 April 2021 (Session 2019–21): [accessed 1 December 2021]

32 Women’s Aid, A perfect storm: The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on domestic abuse survivors and the services supporting them (2020): [accessed 1 December 2021]

33 ADCS, Building a country that works for all children post COVID-19 (July 2020): [accessed 1 December 2021]

34 Centre for Mental Health, ‘Covid-19 and the nation’s mental health’: [accessed 05 August 2021]

35 Q 14 (Jane Williams, Founder CEO, The Magpie Project)

36 Ivan LaValle and Megan Jarvie, ‘Old challenges, new concerns: how Covid-19 has magnified inequalities in the childcare system’, Coram Family and Childcare: [accessed 9 August 2021]

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