Back in January, I published a post, What about Children and Young People? Are they no more than collateral damage? The opening sentence declared, ‘from the very beginning, March 2020, of the utterly undemocratic imposition of COVID-inspired sweeping restrictions on social existence I feared for children and young people.’
I was perplexed from the outset at what seemed to be the absence of debate and the utter lack of opposition to the demanded closures of children’s and young people’s provision – from playgrounds through schools and youth facilities to universities. I am being diplomatic. I was pissed off and angry. It was plain that such draconian, disproportionate action would be deeply damaging. The belated acknowledgement in the summer of 2021 that the lockdown was creating serious mental health issues for the younger generation, crocodile tears, merely confirmed my angst. Then, a humble breath taken, I recognised it was easy for me to be so moved. If I was still a practising youth worker. teacher or lecturer what would I have done during the last two years?
Towards the end of the piece I commented:
Certainly in the coming weeks, as the pandemic narrative unravels, it would be revealing to hear the thoughts of UK youth workers, teachers and lecturers about their sense of the impact upon children and young people, upon themselves of the two years lost.
I’m still waiting but prodded by an Opinion article in the Guardian, ‘Evidence grows of lockdown harm to the young. But we act as if nothing happened‘ by Martha Gill, I’ll return to the issue by way of a recent criticism of lockdown.
Written by Dr Zenobia Storah, Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist, it is entitled, ‘Reflections of a Child Psychologist on the Pandemic Response, 2 years on.’ It deserves to be read in full, particularly perhaps by professionals in the fields of welfare and education. At one point she muses.
Something unexpected happened in Spring and Summer of 2020. I found myself standing apart from my colleagues. I could understand that in the initial stages of the pandemic, due to the particular threat that Covid posed to the elderly, the government’s decision had been to focus on the protection of older members of the population. But as the weeks wore on and I imagined the harm being done to children across the country, informed both by my training and my professional experience, it was clear to me that too much weight was being focussed on the protection of adults at the enormous expense of the less obvious (but more long-term) damage to the future and well-being of children and young people. And yet those who I would expect to be my natural allies due to shared knowledge and experience remained silent. There was no national, grown-up discussion anywhere about how we might balance the need to protect the most vulnerable from Covid with the interests of the young, and how we could remain faithful to our national commitment to children’s best interests being paramount. Any attempt to introduce such discussion was met with derision and accusations of moral decrepitude. To my astonishment, this was also the case on professional online forums, where it became increasingly difficult to raise concerns. It seemed to me that psychologists, who describe themselves as ‘scientist-practitioners’, should be asking serious questions about society-wide decisions to impose restrictions and mandates that would inevitably harm children and young people (and other vulnerable groups). At the very least, they should all be calling for a broader discussion, which they would be uniquely placed to inform, and at best, an extremely high bar (in terms of cost-benefit analysis) for the introduction of such measures. Yet the general view amongst those working with children and young people – and the official view of most professional bodies including my own – was that the moral responsibility of child professionals was to support government policy (at whatever cost to society and whilst asking no questions – or so it seemed to me) and then to work to mitigate the impact on mental or physical health. The alternative view – that policies that kept children out of schools, cut them off from families and friends, kept them from participating in outdoor sports, normal play, activity and socialising and prevented them from accessing healthcare and other support services should not be in place at all – was anathema. This was disturbing and confusing. I could not understand how, given the values and knowledge we had all shared before March 2020, this had come about.
We always knew what circumstances and experiences children needed in order to thrive, to be physically well and to be mentally healthy, and we knew that the unprecedented social experiment that took place from March 2020 deprived them of many of these things and would put many at risk of serious harm. The collateral damage outlined in all these studies and reports could have been foreseen and warned against by many more child professionals than ever spoke out. In moving into the post-pandemic era, it is essential that we continue to speak of these harms, to measure and describe them and to share these findings with our colleagues and the general public. We need to welcome into the discussion the concerns of many people who, at the time, were persuaded that reduced transmission of Covid trumped everything else, including the safety and mental and physical health of children and young people. It would be good to reach a point where there is full acknowledgement of the harms caused and the catastrophic errors made that led to them. Perhaps the Covid Inquiry will lead society to ask itself how we ever got to a point where children and young people were routinely subjected to harmful and unevidenced interventions and restrictions. As we support recovery, all those working with children and those in government must re-commit to the principles of the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child. And we must ensure that we never subject a generation of children to such experiences ever again.
Speaking purely of youth workers, managers and lecturers, fond of proclaiming themselves to be critical practitioners par excellence, to what extent at a local, regional and national level are they coming together to consider what has been going on over the pandemic years? To what extent are they encouraging young people to discuss the rights and wrongs of the authoritarian clampdown on their lives? Or is the profession pretending the last two years never happened? Such collective myopia bodes ill for a future, within which an emboldened ruling class is confident that its diktat will be fearfully obeyed and that amongst its messengers of anxiety will be indeed youth workers, managers and lecturers.