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Covid babies ‘still struggling with social skills’ – report

Concerns have been raised about the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children and babies (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Concerns have been raised about the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children and babies (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Babies and toddlers have “fallen behind with their social skills” due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a new report has claimed.

Youngsters have missed out on important interactions at a critical stage of their development which has led to many being far behind where they would have been had it not been for the crisis, experts said.

A new report from the First 1001 Days Movement and Institute of Health Visiting claims that youngsters are still reeling from the impact of the crisis.

Personal and social skills, communication, speech and language abilities and emotional wellbeing and development are just some of the areas that ‘Covid babies’ are falling short of where they would be expected to be for their age.

The report said that babies and toddlers and their families experienced the pandemic at a “particularly pertinent time”.

“It is having a lasting effect on many babies’ and children’s wellbeing and development, and on the ability of services to meet their needs,” the authors wrote.

“More babies and children’s outcomes are falling behind where we would expect them to be, and many services are reaching a crisis point where they are unable to meet families’ needs.”

The report also features a poll of 555 professionals across the UK who work with babies and their families in health visiting, mental health, maternity, early education, and other services.

The poll found:

– Almost all (95%) said the pandemic has an ongoing negative impact on the personal and social skills of young children who were growing up during the pandemic.

– And 93% said the same for communication, speech and language skills, and emotional wellbeing and development.

– Just under half (49%) said that babies are sitting more and have less stimulation and play compared to pre-2020.

– Some 43% said that many babies they work with are affected by parental anxiety, stress, or depression due to the pandemic.

Many families have smaller social networks as a result of the crisis, which has led to “reduced opportunities for socialisation, reduced social capacity, increased parental anxiety, and reduced knowledge about children’s development, the authors said.

The report adds that the increased stress on families has led to more children being at risk of neglect and abuse.

And the strain on services working with young families means that it has been “harder” for them to detect issues.

The authors said that the Government must take action to support the youngest children.

Georgina Mayes, policy and quality lead at the Institute of Health Visiting, said: “The pandemic is having a lasting impact on many children’s health, wellbeing and development, and on the ability of services to meet their needs.

“More children are falling behind, inequalities are widening, and some services are reaching a crisis point.

“We call on national and local governments across the UK to take the findings of this research seriously and act now to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our youngest children’s lives and life chances.”

Keith Reed, chief executive of the Parent-Infant Foundation and secretariat of First 1001 Days said: “The pandemic and its impacts are not over. It is having a lasting effect on many thousands of babies and children’s wellbeing and development, and on the ability of services to meet their needs.”

Claire O’Meara, from UNICEF UK, added: “This report shows that the stark impacts of the pandemic on babies, toddlers and their families are not over yet.

“Increased pressure and under-investment in services means families across the UK are still not getting the vital support they need to support their child’s development.”

Teachers have previously raised concerns that some children starting school since the pandemic began have lacked basic skills such as being able to go to the toilet by themselves or using a knife and fork.

A Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting families and giving young children and babies the best start in life.

“Over £300 million has been committed to the Family Hubs and Start for Life programme for 75 local authorities across England which high levels of deprivation, to enhance services and improve outcomes.

“The Chancellor’s autumn statement delivered a £6.6 billion boost to the NHS which will tackle what matters most to patients, including clearing the Covid backlogs and improving access to services.”