High Sheriff of West Sussex, Dr Tim Fooks, talks to the NSPCC after report reveals impact Covid has had on young people

High Sheriff of West Sussex Dr Tim Fooks, in his weekly briefing, talks about the work of the NSPCC’s Childline service, which reports an increase in Covid-related counselling sessions, despite a drop in the number of volunteers.

‘Safeguarding the vulnerable’. This was the theme that I had chosen for my year as High Sheriff as I prepared to take up the role last spring. These words reflected some of the work that I have undertaken as a doctor for children and young people in my practice in Pulborough and across the county. However, as a new NSPCC report has revealed, the Covid pandemic has given these words a new and quite worrying significance, especially for the young.

The current infection rates in West Sussex are now such that the need for social distancing is undisputed. Schools have been prevented from opening, shopping is limited to essential items only and socialising is largely off limits.

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While these measures undoubtedly reduce the risk of infection, for many children and young people, social isolation has created a different form of risk – some are describing this a pandemic of another kind – that of anxiety, loneliness and depression.

For many children and young people, social isolation has created a risk of anxiety, loneliness and depression

In this regard, the latest national figures from the NSPCC’s Childline service, reported last week, are of concern. They have shown that between April and the end of December last year, the average monthly number of counselling sessions for mental and emotional health provided to children aged 11 and under had risen by 16 per cent from pre-lockdown levels.

Counselling sessions where children spoke about loneliness also rose by 10 per cent and the Childline website has received three times as many visits compared to the pre-lockdown period from January to March.

The reasons for these increases are many and varied but they reflect a concern about the effect of Covid on themselves or members of their family, a lack of interaction with other young people, the loss of supervision and support of schools, and anxieties regarding exams.

In some very vulnerable families, domestic abuse has increased, leading to great distress to the young living in the same household. Furthermore, although social media can help to reduce a sense of isolation, some studies show that heavy use of online media is associated with worsening distress and loneliness.

The NSPCC is urgently appealing to people in West Sussex who can spare four hours one evening a week, or at the weekend, to volunteer

Thankfully, the report demonstrates that children and young people know how to access Childline and that, through the dedication of its staff and volunteers, it remained open without fail throughout last year.

However, the report also shows the problems of the pandemic have prevented some of its volunteers from being able to continue in their role and there has been a 40 per cent drop in their numbers in the same period.

With the disruption to our schools and daily living likely to continue for some time to come, Childline has never been more important as a source of support for young people who have nowhere else to turn. But Childline itself needs help if it is to continue to offer the same level of service and the NSPCC is urgently appealing to people in West Sussex who can spare four hours one evening a week, or at the weekend, to volunteer.

If this is not possible, there is also a range of other ways to support the charity, including taking on a sponsored challenge, Kick the Caffeine, or fundraising in the community.

Childline has never been more important as a source of support for young people who have nowhere else to turn

The charity will be very grateful for all the support we can give Childline so that it can continue in its vital work with children and young people to ‘safeguard the vulnerable’.

Children can call Childline on 0800 1111 from 7.30am to 3.30am Monday to Friday, or 9am to 3.30am at weekends. Or they can get in touch via www.childline.org.uk

To find out more about volunteering for Childline, visit the NSPCC website

More advice on parenting through the pandemic can also be found on the NSPCC website

How to help children cope – advice provided by the NSPCC

Childline has some very useful advice for children who are struggling with the effects of lockdown:

Stay in touch without seeing people

Even if you cannot see people, there are still ways to keep in touch:

Encourage your child to talk to people they know using facetime or video chat.

Urge them to contact a friend they have not heard from for a while just to say hello.

Suggest they start a new group chat with people they care about.

Play a new game with your child, or watch something new with them on TV.

Speak up

Let your child know they can come to you with any worries or questions. They can also always get support from the Childline website www.childline.org.uk

If they don’t feel comfortable speaking to you, they can speak to a trained volunteer Childline counsellor by calling 0800 1111.

When they can’t find the words

There are lots of ways children can try to express themselves:

Encourage them to express their feelings with Childline’s online Art Box tool or do something creative.

If they’re frustrated, they can try releasing anger by screaming into a pillow.

Keep a diary.

Try something new

Encourage them to try a new hobby or learn a new skill. From practising juggling to learning origami, the possibilities are endless. They can ask for suggestions on Childline’s message board.

There are ideas for new skills in Childline’s online Coping Kit.