Pandemic, coupled with parental unemployment, increased poverty, and financial stress, will have a hugely negative impact on children unless steps are taken

As outlined in an Economic and Social Research Institute report on Children’s lives in Ireland, published Monday, May 31, the pandemic, coupled with parental unemployment, increased poverty, and financial stress, will have a hugely negative impact on children unless steps are taken now.

The Prevention and Early Intervention Network represents those working with children and families throughout Ireland. During a think-in last week, members outlined the significant demand for services, including from families — and the increase in families who have never sought help before.

Members spoke of the anxiety that children of all ages are experiencing and the increase in younger children, from the age of five upwards, needing therapeutic inputs. They spoke of the trauma of bereavement and the isolation of lockdown and of the increase in domestic abuse and alcohol use in the home.

Ireland’s most recent children’s strategy, Better Outcomes Brighter Futures, concluded its six-year life in 2020. Now is the time to start the planning process for an ambitious new children’s strategy which seeks to address the impact on children and families of the pandemic as well as to continue to address the challenges which were there before Covid and have not gone away.

What is required is an immediate consultation with children and their families on their needs post-pandemic and an immediate engagement with service providers across the statutory, voluntary and community sectors on the needs they are encountering and the supports they need to address them.

The process should also build on the many positive local initiatives that have been developed during the pandemic, so that they can be shared and implemented on a national basis. These steps should inform an ambitious and well-funded strategy for our children for the next six years.

Acting quickly and decisively now will pay dividends into the future. Research clearly shows that preventing adverse childhood experiences — or indeed offsetting their impact — can improve health across the whole life course, enhancing wellbeing and productivity while reducing pressures and costs on health, social, criminal justice, and educational systems