MORE than 40 of the UK’s leading children’s charities and child development experts have issued a warning to the Westminster Covid-19 Inquiry chair of “unacceptable delays” to taking evidence from children on lockdown.

Save the Children UK, the NSPCC and the National Children’s Bureau are among the signatories of an open letter sent to inquiry chair the Rt Hon Baroness Heather Hallett asking her to commission experts to start recording children’s experiences immediately.

Dan Paskins, director of UK Impact at Save the Children said: “Children are being silenced by this inquiry. Despite repeated promises from chair, the Rt Hon Baroness Heather Hallet, she would urgently ensure children’s memories are captured and the issue matters to her, no measures are in place to make this happen. Children are not an afterthought or an inconvenience in this inquiry process. Their lives were turned upside down by government decisions and any barriers in the way of them having their say need to be removed immediately.”

Louise King, Director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, part of Just for Kids Law, said: “Hearing from children is now a critical issue for the proper functioning of the Covid Inquiry and these delays have gone on long enough. Children are one quarter of the population and there is simply no inquiry into what happened in the UK between 2020 and 2022 without them.

“More than 40 organisations and child development experts are sending the strongest message possible that this lack of progress is no longer acceptable and this must be a wake up call for immediate action. We can’t sit by while more stories emerge of the pandemic’s impact on children without hearing from them directly and getting their views and personal experiences on record.”

The letter explains how there is still no clear public strategy and approach for listening to children and young people, especially those who experience inequalities or discrimination, nine months after this issue was first raised by Save the Children, Just for Law Kids and the Children’s Rights Alliance England.

The inquiry’s recent advertising campaign for Every Story Matters (ESM), and the accompanying website emphasised “that all stories are important, and all stories should be told by those who wish to tell them”.

However, neither the website nor the advertising campaign makes any mention that this is an adult only activity and there is no provision for under 18s.

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “Children’s needs often went under the radar during the pandemic but we heard first hand through Childline and the NSPCC Helpline about its devastating impact on many young people, particularly those subjected to abuse and neglect.

“Many of the children who suffered the most did so because they were hidden from those who could help them. It’s crucial the Covid Inquiry finally gives young people a voice so we can fully understand the support and services required to avoid a generation of children being defined by the pandemic.”

Phillip Anderson, Strategic Director of External Affairs at the National Children’s Bureau, said: “Babies, children and young people have had their lives turned upside down by the pandemic. With school closures and social isolation undermining their development, many were also deprived of vital services like social care and health which were unable to provide business-as-usual support. So, it is vital that the Covid-19 Inquiry listens hard to what a quarter of the population went through and reflects closely upon the experiences and ideas of children and young people themselves. If another pandemic strikes the next generation needs to be protected.”

The open letter is calling on the chair of the inquiry to:

  • Make a public commitment to hear from children, and in particular those from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who experience other inequalities or discrimination.
  • Ensure the research is carried out in partnership with an expert academic institution together with local community organisations with roots and credibility in particular communities which experience inequalities and discrimination.
  • Make a commitment that the findings from this research will directly inform the scope of the planned children’s module of the inquiry and publicly set out how children’s voices have influenced the inquiry once the research has been conducted.

A specific children’s module of the Covid-19 Inquiry is likely to take place in 2025 – 2026.

* Read the open letter and see the signatories here.

* Source: Save the Children UK