COVID pandemic has left indelible mark on children
The Sector > COVID-19 > COVID has powerful lessons to teach about neglect, researchers argue

COVID has powerful lessons to teach about neglect, researchers argue

by Freya Lucas

November 13, 2023

Children are still suffering the consequences of official neglect during the first ‘shock period’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oxford University researchers have found, after analysing the response of 40 countries to the challenges of the pandemic when it came to ensuring children were safeguarded. 


Families were not widely prioritised by public policies, according to the analysis  from Oxford’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention (DSPI) and UNICEF. Official policy responses aimed at children and families tended to be short-term, reactive, and focused more around protecting adults rather than protecting children. 


In the first nine to 10 months of the pandemic, some 30 oer cent of high-income countries studied created no new policies specifically aimed at supporting children.


Study lead Professor Mary Daly said the immediate and ongoing impact of COVID-19 policies on children has been ‘too little considered’ and the full story of how well countries responded to children’s needs has still to be told.


“Children cannot speak for themselves and face ongoing needs to help them recover from the pandemic and to ensure that future policies better protect them,” she said. 


“This report and database fill a pressing requirement for information and intelligence to enable us to learn lessons and not repeat mistakes.”


The report calls on countries to undertake a transformative, child-centred approach to social protection and care policies. According to the researchers, policy makers must continue to provide for the COVID-19 generation of children and reinstate positive measures, which existed prior to the pandemic, including guarantees for children to education and early childhood services and explicit target setting around child poverty.


“The pandemic remains hugely relevant today – it can teach us many lessons about our priorities and how they need to change,” the Professor continued. 


“Children were not as high on the agenda as they should have been, although some countries did a lot better than others. Countries can learn from their own experience but also the experience of others.”


Written along with Dr Sunwoo Ryu, University of Bristol, the study is the first systematic comparative record of measures taken for children’s welfare across 40 European Union (EU) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in 2020.


Using a child-centred perspective, it measures the policy actions across six fields that are most important for children, namely: 


  • Education
  • Early childhood education and care
  • Paid parental leave
  • Income support for families 
  • Food support 
  • Health-related measures.


The ‘Child Policy During COVID-19 Database’ was part-funded by the UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight, and Oxford’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention.


Access it here

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